The only pieces of art I studied in school were the doodles I drew in the margins of my textbooks. I knew who Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Vermeer were, of course–thank you, historical fiction–but I’d have been hard pressed to identify any of their work.
That all changed this week in Paris. After cluelessly fumbling through the Orsay Museum without a notebook, camera or lunch, I returned exhausted to my hostel in Montemartre determined to do a better job with the next museum–the famous Louvre.
I spent that afternoon sipping on tea and researching not only the art in the museum but the best way to tackle it all. The Louvre, after all, has over 380,000 objects and 35,000 pieces of art on display, everything from Egyptian figurines the size of my pinky fingernail to paintings that take up an entire room.
As Richard Halliburton wrote, “It is a waste of eyes to ride in Paris”, so on Monday morning I forewent the metro and walked the couple kilometers to the museum. Paris is an amazing city, there’s no denying it. With the surfeit of fine architecture and centuries-old buildings there’s an opportunity for art appreciation on nearly every street corner.
I arrived at the Carousel entrance to the Louvre fifteen minutes before opening and had the opportunity to take a picture with the glass pyramid, complete with an accidental Asian tourist photobomb. Too classic to retake.
Once the gates opened I was swept through with the mad rush of rabid
art enthusiasts bucketlisters that storm the Louvre every day. I headed straight for the iconic Mona Lisa, hoping for a moment of peace in which to view it.
Ha, right. Everyone had the same idea, and peace was nowhere to be found. My only advice for the Louvre–get to a side entrance early, and go to any wing of the museum other than the one housing the Mona Lisa. That room will always be a madhouse, so take your only opportunity to see any other piece of art in solitude.
The next few hours were far more enjoyable. Unlike the Orsay Museum, the Louvre provides educational materials in a dozen languages for almost every exhibit hall. These materials changed the “Venus de Milo” from a weirdly athletic armless woman to a fascinating art mystery I couldn’t take my eyes off of.
The Egyptian Antiquities wing is not so much an art display as an archeological collection that happens to have artistic qualities. I spent a lot of time there staring in awe at the cases of jewelry and bronze mirrors, the rows of sphinxes and sarcophagi, and the towering figures of Ramses III and other god-kings. I soaked it in while I could–our culture’s former bad habit of pillaging archeological sites means there are probably more Egyptian artifacts in the Louvre than there are in all of Egypt.
I spent the next couple hours gawking at such works of art as “Raft of the Medusa”, “Madonna on the Rocks” and “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”. The skill of the artists who wrought emotion out of canvas and stone is immense–the curve of a flexed muscle, a ringlet of hair falling over a shoulder, fingers reaching out in desperation. Apparently I didn’t need an art appreciation course to understand the beauty and humanity contained in these works.
Then again, maybe I did.
Is it just me or is some of this art ridiculous? I mean, look at these two characters. The dude in cowboy boots is probably strumming out a bad rendition of “American Pie” while the girl wishes he would please stop. Timeless and hilarious.
And what about this one? The girl looks mighty unimpressed with the drunk guy’s offer. “Seriously? Eighteen cents? You have got to be effing kidding me.”
And here, this one looks like a pleasant day in town, right?
Wait, what’s that in the bottom corner? A dog taking a dump? Nice touch.
It only went downhill from there. In a fit of giggles I decided the time had come for me to leave behind the Louvre and all the dirty looks I was getting, but at least I left in a better mood than most.