There’s magic in a good painting. While it makes no sound and nothing physically moves or changes, it can move you to experience these things. Look at, say, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” The scene is packed with men and women chatting, flirting, and otherwise enjoying themselves at France’s Maison Fournaise on the Seine. You imagine hearing the din of their voices and their moving about to talk to one another. You imagine hearing and seeing what interests them at their luncheon because a good painting takes you there. You enter the painting. Renoir doesn’t give you directional sounds and movement to tell you what to look at the way a motion picture does. It’s your call.
Yet Juliet Hermann’s “tribute to Giorgio de Chirico” for Hyperallergic, an online #Art journal, took her visual editing skills and violated his work and, by turns, you the viewer. De Chirico’s trademark long shadows that fall from tall arcaded buildings in abandoned squares conjure up silent dreams. A difficult-to-understand world -- the lonely nature of modern life -- is De Chirico’s subject.
What did Hermann do? She joined together 10 of De Chirico’s paintings into one, scored it with continuous intoning music and sounds of running water and wind and further manipulated the image by animating it with a passing boat and train.
Apparently oblivious to the intrusion on De Chirico’s work, Hyperallergic writer Claire Voon praised Hermann early this week for creating a “meditative short with sound components befitting De Chirico’s desolate scenes.” How can there be sound in a desolate scene? Ambient sounds of life bring to life something that De Chirico wanted mute.
When De Chirico painted “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street,” in which you see a small girl rolling a hoop down a vacant street of old world-style buildings with preposterous perspective, you know it’s a dream, a disquieting fantasy, not some schmaltzy pictorial of a child at play.
Granted, turning visual art into words reduces it – my writing, included. That can’t be helped and it haunts this writing. But linguistics correlations can’t hope to capture a visual evocation. Even when a really good poet like Delmore Schwartz lyricizes Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon Along the Seine,” with lines like: “What are they looking at? Is it the river? Or the luxury and nothingness of consciousness?” -- he invades the space that the image alone must fill.
In a similar way, when Wallace Stevens, another good poet, wrote of Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” he said, “They said you have a blue guitar/You do not play things as they are ...It’s beyond us as we are,” he came mighty close to what Picasso was painting. Even so, the poetry is in the picture. It doesn’t need more.
De Chirico was a Surrealist, which means he aimed to transcend reality and free everyday images from their traditional association. A boat and train in motion bring back the usual associations. They bring back logic, something Surrealists mocked. Hermann spoiled the incongruities that the painter was so good at extolling.
“A work of art,” wrote De Chirico, “must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the regions of childhood visions and dreams.”