Time, space and place are seminal plot-points in every archetype of story-telling. We found this New York Times article compelling, because we are story-tellers and technology is influencing our plot. Roberta Smith takes us beyond screenplay to tell us the real story.
NYT ARTS / ART & DESIGN | January 01, 2010
Art: Time, the Infinite Storyteller
By Roberta Smith
There are certain artworks that make us experience time with particular sharpness, deepening our emotional understanding of its nature.
Time and Place; a fusion of technology, location and experience…
In a way it seems a trifle odd that artworks are such superb instruments of time travel. Time is not visual, after all, unlike space.
One way or another, much art tells a story. That is, it depicts time on the move, at different rates, in slices of various thickness. Sometimes a narrative is so deeply embedded in cultural consciousness that a single moment from it, or maybe two — as in a before and after — can stand in for the epic whole.
In art as in physics, time isn’t necessarily linear. It can be compressed by memory, and some art reveals its simultaneity.
Such anxiety tends to be tied directly or indirectly to the end of real time, a k a mortality. It is hard to feel, in an art museum, alone in your fear of death, since it is one of the most common motivations for artists. To say that art has long tried to placate death, its gods or the dead themselves, or to achieve a comfortable afterlife, would be an understatement; think of the Met’s Egyptian wing, filled mostly with items from royal tombs, or its galleries of European medieval art, where the lives of Jesus or the Christian saints are reiterated in work after work. And it could be argued that just about every object at the Met not intended to placate gods or commemorate the dead is an effort to live on beyond death in human memory. (Of course there’s no penalty for trying to do both at once: the Raphael Madonna, to cite one of many examples.)
Mortality is made especially palpable by the deaths of our predecessors, starting with our parents, and paying respects has long been a way to ease our relationship with our own impending end.
Some artworks make us especially conscious of the time they took to create. The Gubbio Studiolo speaks of awe-inspiring skill, patience and the desire for beauty. So does the tughra, or calligraphic signature, of Sulaiman the Magnificent, who ruled Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century, on view in the upper level of the Great Hall. Its sweeping strokes of blue, filled in with intricate blue and gold floral patterns, are the result of painstaking mastery and of a cultural sophistication refined over centuries. Appearing at the top of each of Sulaiman’s edicts, it lists all his titles and fittingly suggests a proud peacock.
Jackson Pollock’s dazzling drip painting “Autumn Rhythm” also awes, but with its sense of velocity. It conveys the painter’s movements and gestures, his “dance” around the canvas and his successive choices of color. As startling as the implied speed of its production is the way it so clearly expresses a new conception of painting.