January 12, 2019

degas dancer1, 30%degas dancers2, 30%

Last Friday evening I met one of my sketching groups at the Norton Simon. It was pretty dark and cool at 5 pm in Pasadena. If you are from the Midwest you will probably scoff at my saying that it gets cold in SoCal in winter. I was thinking about my “made up” fragility as I went directly through the front door, then the back door and out to the back garden to see if I would persist. I decided I would at least take a turn around that garden, around the Monet inspired pond and past all the beautiful sculptures. Actually I have done some fun sketches as the sun is going down back there and thought just maybe…Nah ah! It was just too darn cold for me. And for some reason they had blocked off the grass area on one whole side of the pond. I often like to sit there. What was that about? I did see one sketching friend sitting on a large boulder at the farthest end of the pond. He looked pretty settled in there. But I just kept walking round, past the fun café playing favorite jazz, back to the back garden door and then into the warm building. I wasn’t really sure what to do, as this was uncharted territory for me. And because of the cooler weather most everyone else was inside too. Darn! So, I ventured into the salon with the more contemporary art and decided to look around. In the past, I have found myself in this part of the museum (when’s it’s been too hot to be in the garden) and drawn some of the Degas bronze dancer sculptures you see here and thought I might look at them again. I plopped down on a bench near the first dancer, the one you see here dancing all alone. As I started to take out my pencils and pens I looked over my shoulder and saw three more Degas dancers in a clump. Then I turned around the other direction and saw the third grouping of Degas dancers. So, with my newfound “non-garden” lethargy I decided I would sit on this one bench and swing myself around and sketch all three. (I also did a sketch of Degas “balking” horse sculpture. I wasn’t even sure what it meant if a horse “balked.” Those of you who are more familiar with horseback riding may already know what that means. So, I looked it up on my phone. I guess it’s when a horse all of a sudden decides “nah ah” and he or she tries to stop moving. Actually, I didn’t post that sketch here because I thought it looked more like a balking dog-horse. Not really sure if I’m to blame for the dog head outcome. It seems that Degas forgot to put ears on his horse, so in fact it kind of looks like a dog’s head on a horse’s body. Google it and I think you will see what I mean. Woof!)

In a recent post (November 17, 2018) I described a very officious museum guard that I had encountered outside in the sculpture garden in front of the Norton Simon. It seems that the guard brethren on the inside of the museum are just as persistent and annoying as those on the outside. After I finally got settled on one end of my bench to do the first sketch I thought I saw a rather nervous looking guard whiz past me several times. I was busy with my sketch and thought maybe I was just being paranoid. But after what I decided was his 10th flyby, he stopped in front of the Degas dancer I was sketching and asked if the tiny flaccid canvas bag on the floor at my feet was mine. I told him it belonged to me and he scooted past—never showing his face again in my direction for the rest of the evening. What is it with these guards and poor artists sitting at benches? The last time my bag of art materials and I were accosted here I imagined that I would get back at the guard by unleashing some live bats I just happened to have in my backpack inside the museum. This time, because my bag was quite a bit smaller, I imagined I had a couple dozen ping-pong balls in there. And at any given moment I would wave the bag about, flinging ping-pong balls willy-nilly throughout the room. And I could just picture all these little white balls bouncing merrily off the walls, paintings and sculptures, and on the polished hardwood floors. But alas, I would not be able to provide any additional evening entertainment for anyone as I had left my ping-pong balls at home. I did, however, have a sheet of bubble wrap in my bag. I guess I could have snapped and popped that at will, but it was so noisy in the room, no one would have noticed. Oh darn.

degas dancers3, 30%

Putting ideas, or even people, into context

So, all of these seemingly random events and subsequent thoughts got me to thinking about how I felt like a fish out of water that night. And that made me wonder if I was somehow out of my element, or out of my personal outdoor garden context. Why was I imagining myself wreaking havoc inside…again? Maybe the guards I ran into sensed that I was out of context and not where I was supposed to be. This all seemed way too serious after my imagined ping-pong incident. That got me wondering if I was using the phrase “in context” in a truly meaningful way. I looked it up in the Google dictionary and it says “in context” means “considered together with the surrounding words or circumstances.” Maybe I was just a “balking artist” and I should just be happy that the museum guard had left me alone so I could finish sketching all my dancers. I decided that was the best way to go. When I finished one sketch, I swiveled myself around the bench to the next set of dancers, and so on. At 6:30, I packed up my bag and gathered with my fellow artists for our throw down. It was at that time that realized I was certainly in a favorite artist’s context. Maybe we are all a little more comfortable and a little less stressed when we feel like we belong in our surroundings or circumstances. What about you? What is your personal favorite context?

I swear this is the last story of the guards at the Norton Simon:

A sketching friend told me that the museum guards at the Norton Simon used to be way worse. She added a pretty funny story about Norton Simon, the man. I guess Mr. Simon was pretty autocratic, with definite ideas of what the art museum should look like and how it was to be run. And it seems that Norton Simon didn’t really care if anyone actually visited the museum, so he had lots of rules for the people who actually wanted to see the art. But that’s not all. My friend added that it is rumored that on his deathbed he told his wife (Academy Award winning actress, Jennifer Jones), that now she could finally have her café.


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