Art As Experience

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Art isn’t meant to be just looked at. It’s meant to be experienced and Maxine Rose Schur says for that to happen its best to be alone.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to the DeYoung museum then turned me loose to wander and meet them back at a certain time.

I was 10.

The freedom to explore without instruction was one of the greatest gifts they gave me. I was free to experience the art and find through my own emotions what I loved.

The Avery Brundage Collection of Asian Art was then a wing of the DeYoung and here I became fascinated with Chinese landscape scrolls. In San Francisco I was used to fog making the world look mysterious, and this very quality was in the scrolls. I liked this and I liked how the tiny traveler in a Chinese landscape painting is always dwarfed by the immensity of nature. As a child, I too sensed the tiny traveler’s awe.

One day I was struck by the view outside the big picture window at the entrance of the Brundage Collection--- a vision of the pagoda and pine trees in the Japanese tea garden next door seen through a veil of fog. I stood stunned, seeing this scene as a kind of Chinese painting itself---- fitting to the collection.

Art is about discovery, not least of which is the discovery of our personal reaction to it. That’s why to this day I prefer to wander museums alone. For it is especially in silence that you can be stunned.

It happened to me. Once I rounded a corner in the Orsay Museum in Paris when suddenly my eyes lit upon a small Cezanne still life. Its color and volume were so gorgeous, I stood transfixed--- seized by beauty. Captured.
And I have had many times now the aesthetic experience of wonder in which to really see, as the French essayist, Paul Valery describes, “is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” It is a losing of oneself, a time out-of-time moment that teaches us not only about the power of art, but through our response to it, about ourselves.

And that experience, I believe, happens best when you’re alone.

With a Perspective,I’m Maxine Rose Schur.

Maxine Rose Schur lives in San Rafael and is a travel essayist, children’s book author and writing instructor.