This spring, my little family (me, my mother, and my husband) took a day trip to Cleveland. We had tickets to hear the symphony perform Mozart’s Requiem. It had been my mother’s dream for many years to hear Cleveland’s symphony perform in the hallowed domain of Severance Hall. The hub known as University Circle is where the gilded age world of Edith Wharton existed in Ohio. Severance Hall, the art museum, Case Western, all exist because of the monied world that lived there more than hundred years ago.
We arrived in time to lunch in Little Italy. The mister ordered a fancy real Italian dish and Mom had not one, but two espressos. She gave me the amaretto biscuit, of course! A favorite since I was a girl and probably why I enjoy amaretto liquor so much in my hot chocolate in winter as an adult.
In the several hours before the concert, we visited the art museum. Cinema nerds know that the recently renovated museum had its atrium featured in Captain America: Winter Soldier as the lobby for S.H.E.I.D. But for me, it stands as one of the most beautiful museums in which I’ve ever stepped foot. I like the space more than the Met (sorry), it’s better than Philadelphia, and may be tied in my heart with the National Gallery in DC. Yes, I’m counting the National Gallery in London. Sorry! Plus, they lost points when my Da Vinci was out on loan and their Vermeer was meh.
I said hello to Monet, their Water Lilies panel I’ve been visiting since I was 15, listened to my husband talk us through the large display of armor and weapons, and visited the portrait of the Scotsman Hugh Hope, who lived 200 years ago and whom my mother loves. As I’ve grown older, I love my Monet a little less and grow towards other works. There’s so much traffic in the new suite the Monet is kept and it is difficult to be left with him, to let your eyes focus in and out and absorb its magnitude. A gaggle of people walk in front of you and even with headphones in, you hear a baby mewling from its stroller. It’s impossible to reach that serene state!
Many people are sure to first notice Jacques Louis David’s Cupid and Psyche on the left. Along with the Monet and the mangled Rodin’s The Thinker, it’s one of the museum’s best pieces. But, oh the muses! If you love art as well as a good story, I encourage you to visit CMA’s page to hear their amazing story of life rotting away in Switzerland for 180 years to a five year restoration process before hanging in their new home.
On the day I visited, they were looking down upon a different story. Do you see him? The man on the bench?
He’s sketching Urania, the Muse of Astronomy, as she gazes up at Apollo. The detail of his drawing was amazing. Many people were watching him. Before I sat to write before the muses is when we visited Mom’s portrait of Hugh. The curator in that room was friendly and with mother present, a conversation was inevitable. I commented on the man’s drawing in the adjacent room and we were told he’s a regular visitor. The curator mentioned people would comment on him and say unkind things. I didn’t say anything, but I was confused. Why would they say anything other than his drawings were outstanding?
I found out when I sat on the other bench to write. He is handicapped in some manner on his left side. His hand was gnarled and I noticed his left foot did not look right either. He uses his lamed left hand to prop up his artists board and hold it in place. It hurt to know people would focus on such sad things when he’s here, overcoming such a challenge and creating amazing artwork. I like to believe Meynier, the painter of the Muses, would be touched to see his work inspiring others. That’s the point of art, isn’t it? To capture a moment, a thought, and pass it on to inspire the future. At least, I thought so, for I wielded my sacred Lamy Briarwood Accent fountain pen and got to work. I listened to opera as I sat before my own muses, Polyhymnia, of Eloquence, and Erato, of Lyrical Poetry, and wrote.
As I reached the end of the page and my time prior to the symphony ran out, I was overcome with a courageousness that was quite out of character. The man who was sketching was also preparing to leave, his caregiver helping him pack his tools. I tore the page from my notebook and packed my own things away. I handed him my writing and said, “Thank you” before walking away to find Mom and the mister.
The Mozart was divine. It’s a reminder that facsimiles of art cannot compare to being in the moment with it. Famous Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer was vehemently opposed to recordings and spent well over a decade recording her cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Recordings that were released posthumously because she hated them so much! Recordings were soulless manipulations driven toward the sterility of perfection versus the expressive nature of creating art. Performance art I feel especially feeds off of the energy of the group. Yet despite how she felt about her recordings, Annie’s cycle of Beethoven’s Sonatas is considered one of the best recordings from the 20th Century. I’ve listened to the Requiem many times, the Lacrymosa is especially painful to me. But to sit in that stunning theater and have the music poured upon me? Nothing can compare. Let the Gods and Goddesses have their ambrosia, for art is the food of the soul.