Can you believe that Nashville, the same city that produced Country Music and the Tennessee Titans, could actually produce culture? I treated myself to a bit of this culture, an art exhibit. Now this was not the ordinary garden variety of art; this was real museum quality stuff. In fact, it was at the museum where I saw it. Nashville was hosting an exhibit of Russian art at the State Museum. I thought there might be an admission charge, but it turned out there was no charge at all. It was FREE! Yes, seems in order for us rednecks to have culture, the Good State of Tennessee is picking up the tab.
So, how can I describe art? The paintings were all magnificent, large and beautifully framed oils on canvas, each more fascinating than the one before. The colors were vivid with interesting brush strokes and textures. I almost stepped over the line a time or two to get closer and look. But as the guard approached, I smiled and stepped back quickly. Whew, close call.
Most of the paintings were portraits, from an era of Russian Art History called “Realism.” It seems that at that point in time the Russian government decided that art should appeal to the common people. The government actually took over the arts in Russia and required artists to produce art that would inspire admiration for the dignity of working people. With studios, supplies and commissions furnished, all the artist had to do was paint. The paintings depicted ballerinas, old people, and peasants with scarves on their heads. Apparently, they did not think that nudes would appeal much as there was only one in the entire exhibit and either she was a very modest lady, or it was a very cold day in Russia.
I studied a group of girls in pink ballerina costumes who seemed vaguely familiar. They appeared to be warming up to dance; each was delicate and graceful with perfectly turned legs. Have I seen this picture in a reproduction? An accordion player in a blue striped boat shirt also left me feeling as if I had seen him before. I stood around for a while waiting to polka when he squeezed the music box. Finally, I decided he wasn’t in the mood as he just stood there looking back, captured forever in suspended animation.
Some of the paintings of Bolshevik people were not colorful like the other pictures, but impressive for their stark drabness. I watched a man climbing a light pole in a painting for quite a while. I was really worried that he was going to get electrocuted and destroy the painting, but finally I had to move on. I hope he made it.
My favorite picture was an ancient old lady with sparkling eyes called, “Portrait of my Granny.” She almost seemed pleased to be the subject of a painting. The wrinkles in her face were perfectly captured. She held her glasses in her hands. If you want to know the skill of an artist, study the hands. Many artists do exquisite faces, but forget to capture the hands. Are the proportions correct? Do the fingers look natural? This lady looked so real I suspect that she picks up the book on her table and reads to pass the time when the tourists are not around.
I moved on to a picture of milkmaids collapsed in mirth. What were they laughing about? I waited and waited and studied the picture for clues, but could not figure out the joke. They were not telling onlookers. The secret remains hidden somewhere in the canvas behind the oils, forever a mystery to wonder about. I had a few ideas, but guess I won’t speculate here
One concept of Russian Art is to have several artists work on one painting to support the Russian ideal of submersion of the individual for the common good. Russian art also frequently depicted doorways or windows representing the Soviet belief that they were moving into a utopian society – an idea that I’m afraid hasn’t quite worked out as well as they hoped.
The art is on loan, of course. I plan to go back again, maybe several times, and look some more. Today was just the sampler. Funny thing, those people in the pictures were almost like us, real people, common people, guess you could say “Russian rednecks.” Wonder if that is why the museum brought the exhibition here? Yes, if they were not reds, they could almost qualify as rednecks.