I had a few hours to kill. I sat in an overpriced but deliciously warm cafe in New York City and read a couple of William Trevor short stories while I savored a pain au chocolat. Trevor’s story are so wonderful. He is the kind of writer that makes me want to be a writer. The stories are always so deceptively simple and humorously melancholy. El Greco was mentioned off handedly in one story so I walked over to the Met to visit his paintings.
Naturally that was the single gallery that was closed that day. Oh the frustrations of my life! Well, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea. I saw a marvelous exhibition of photography called Faking It, all about the manipulation of photographic prints past and present. It was really fun.
“The camera is an incurable liar; all that is necessary is to choose the method of deception.” Angus McBean 1940
Particularly in the earlier works, the joy of experimentation is palatable. I mean how can you not love a piece titled Same Man Five Times in Judge Costume -(1880’s France) ?
But then – I found what I hadn’t know I was looking for.
I could have spent all day with Rodin. We share an interest in hands: their beauty and symbolism, but that was not what captivated me on this day. Rodin’s gift, his genius is in the angles of his subject’s heads. All the feeling and emotion he is trying to convey is caught in the tension of a twisted neck, the fought gravity of a downturned face.
Cupid pressing his head away from Physche is enough to make you cry. But Rodin seems to me to have a more tender understanding of the women in his art. Eurydice and Eternal Spring, each arched or angled head exposes the swelling despair or desire (and both) so poignantly – The Old Courtesan in anyone else’s hand would have been cruel.
Fallen Carytid Carrying a Stone is the Myth of Sisyphus as felt by a woman. There is no action involved. Our burden, our absurdity, is simply a dead weight that we can not even pretend to DO something with.
But her toe! That is where the story is. She seems to sink into the weight of her despair, but her toe is active. By this small sign we know she has not capitulated. Her ability to bear the weight, bear the suffering, is given away by the insubordination of her toe. It is reaching out – to all of us.