As part of being dragged through many museums in Italy on our ALL THE HISTORY tour, I was struck particularly by the stark difference between the magnificent edifices constructed in centuries in which literally all of the population suffered what we would today consider poverty (most of it grinding and miserable), and the sheer ugliness of “modern” art. We would regularly go from admiring this sort of thing – the interior of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice – to viewing graffiti’d traintrack barriers adorned with lines so primitive they generally did not even rise to the descriptor “cartoonish.” The very few scrawls that did possess even a modicum of depth, perspective, or shading stood out quite dramatically among their peers.
In Germany and Austria, there was less graffiti, and it tended to be more skillfully executed than Italian graffiti. I was greatly amused, however, to read a phrase in English, “art is not illegal” – apparently protesting that spraying ugly paint lines all over someone else’s property without their permission is “art” that shouldn’t be penalized. Predictably, this phrase was scrawled next to some of the primitive and unskilled graffiti – just the kind of “art” that a child still learning fine motor skills produces with crayons.
In any case, viewing many sublimely beautiful and ancient works of art was a wonderful experience, and made me wish that I had taken more art history classes in school, so that I would more fully appreciate the religious symbolism of the amazing frescoes and mosaics. Then I remembered that there is a very good reason the only art history class I took was an honors course (aka, interdisciplinary course with limited enrollment) entitled “World of Michelangelo” that focused not on deconstructing anything but on gaining a fuller appreciation of the history and culture as it influenced the artist. In other words, a real class meant for real education.
The “all the history” is a great deal of exaggeration, of course. But seeing Michelangelo’s “David” in person was absolutely amazing.
(Amusing anecdote: at one point in the museums, it seemed like Jesus was photobombing literally every piece of art ever produced. Usually with his mom. The two of several million* that really stood out to me were Lippi‘s and Michelangelo‘s. Also, be wary of visiting the Uffizi with someone who strides through museums at a great pace and casually disregards the buddy system: I actually had to drag my husband back a room or two (after I found him) because he’d somehow missed “Birth of Venus” despite the enormous crowd standing around staring at it. And I would have preferred to spend more time there than we were allowed in his speedy schedule, but we had to run off for lunch and the Accademia. Two nights in Florence was not enough time, either – unless possibly you somehow arrive earlier in the morning the first day and leave later in the afternoon on the third day, which is not how our train itinerary worked out at all.)
*Also an exaggeration
P.S. Visiting Italy with a latent photographer/history buff is MUCH LESS ROMANTIC than advertised. You know those “Family Circus” dotted travel lines? That’s pretty much what happened. Those of us not possessing Energizer Bunny levels of endurance walked from Point A to Point B in an efficient and sensible manner while “Gone Again” J bounced all over our trajectory looking for the best shots of nearly everything. It became a running joke for us to call, “There’s a better angle over here!” whenever we would pass him studiously taking a photo of something.