Art Works Blog

First (Artful) Loves

Here's my photo of Tom Rand's photo of the interior of Chicago's Green Mill Cocktail Lounge. It's one of the pieces of art that's always part of my "art wall." --- PB

Everyone remembers their first. First crush, first kiss, first heartbreak. But what about firsts of a more artful nature? (Which isn't to say, gentle reader, that your break-up poetry wasn't utterly artful.) Inspired by a recent feature in the Huffington Post that asked its editors to name the first artwork they ever loved, we posed the same question to our NEA colleagues. Here's what they had to say...

I flew on a plane for the first time in fourth grade. I was homeschooled, and I was indeed wearing a jean skirt when we arrived in Boston and went straight to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I had never experienced a house museum, and I was shocked and thrilled by the grandeur of Mrs. Gardner’s life. In the corner on the first floor I came across John Singer Sargent’s painting, El Jaleo. It is a very large painting and seeing it in person, in fourth grade, after your first plane flight, wearing your favorite jean skirt, is a thing of beauty. Something I will never forget. My exit paper for my last undergraduate art history course was based on my first experience with this painting. I must have stared at it all afternoon. --- Eleanor Steele, Literature Specialist

Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night was the first piece of art I connected with. I was nine years old, sitting crossed-legged on the floor in Ms. August’s classroom. Back then, I guess there was still some money in our magnet school budget, or at least willing volunteers, to come into classrooms and give art history talks. The lady whose name surpasses me now, came every other Wednesday and I rarely gave her my attention---until Van Gogh. She brought in a small poster-sized copy of Starry Night and I was in a trance of sorts. I thought I had never seen something so beautiful yet confusing. As I listened to her talk about the painting, my eyes followed the swirls in the night sky and the expressive colors. I was hooked. As an art historian in training, I always think back to that picture and the unnamed volunteer that opened my eyes to art. --- J. Rachel Gustafson, Intern, Public Affairs

A cliché I know but Picasso's untitled sculpture in Chicago's Daley Plaza is the very first piece of art I can remember. And I can honestly say I have spent a lifetime staring at it, playing on it, programming around it, and still can only describe it as the Picasso. I have so many stories connected to that incredible sculpture but perhaps one of my fondest memories is getting the opportunity to commission Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood to put Gwendolyn Brooks’ beautiful Picasso poem to music. They performed that piece live in observance of the 30th anniversary of the Picasso in 1997. I hope they record it one of these days. It is an extraordinary piece of music and words for an extraordinary piece of art. --- Michael Orlove, Director, Artist Communities/Presenting

Art has enriched my entire life. The grade school that I attended in New York City displayed art everywhere. I remember seeing a reproduction of Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–86) on the auditorium wall. It captured the high fashion of the time, showed women in attire that accentuated their derrieres and elicited giggles from many of my classmates. It was a revelation to see the original painting at the Art Institute of Chicago many years later, when I was a graduate student studying arts management. --- vEnessa Acham, Division Specialist, Partnerships

My first love was The central panel from The Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin. Of course, at that time I did not know it was an annunciation scene. I thought it was just two women living in a cozy house in the sky. See the clouds outside the window? It seemed to me the house was floating up there. The table appealed to me too---why wasn’t everything sliding off it? --- Diane Biddle, Lead Grants Management Specialist

The first piece of visual art I ever loved was Claude Monet’s The Water-Lily Pond. I had the print on my wall through college. Later, as an adult, when I saw one of Monet’s original water-lily paintings I was in awe of each brush stroke. --- Marisa Marinos, Director of Civil Rights/EEO

Though I insisted on spending part of my sweet 16 birthday party traipsing through New York City's Guggenheim Museum, back then I was more in love with the idea of visiting places I'd heard about on TV than with the actual art on those hallowed walls. In fact, upon seeing the museum's 1986 installation of Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes, I wondered---possibly aloud---why does a fancy museum keep its trash just lying around? I didn't truly fall in love with visual art until I moved to Chicago. Between Picasso's massive sculpture in front of City Hall, the comparatively tiny Joan Miró across the street, and the magnificent mural by Marc Chagall that I walked by many mornings on my way to work, I was hooked. It was in Chicago that I bought my first piece of original art---a photograph by Tom Rand of the interior of the famous jazz spot The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, which was my usual Tuesday night home. I paid $100 for it, which felt like a fortune, and was a little perplexed when I went to pick it up after the gallery show closed and the gallerist handed it to me unframed. Still, it cemented my love of visual art, and my now perpetual longing for more and more wall space (and a bottomless wallet). --- Paulette Beete, Senior Writer/Editor

The Calder [installation] at the National Gallery of Art was my earliest significant memory of visual art. My grandmother, Mimi, used to take us with my mom to the National Gallery of Art because she loved to have tea in the tea room there. The first time I was there I must have been four years old, and she took us into the East Wing and [we went] upstairs to get close to the huge Calder hanging from the ceiling. I lay down on the floor and watched it spin slowly for what seemed like an hour. I felt completely at home in an art museum---and the feeling stuck.

I [later]  had the great good fortune to know business man and art collector Ray Nasher. Before he donated the art to build the Nasher Sculpture Center, his home in Dallas was filled with and surrounded by his incredible collection. Before dinner, he took a few of us on a tour of the garden. I stopped in my tracks when I saw La Nuit by Aristide Maillol right there in front of me. I knew the Maillol work right away and couldn’t believe it was at rest in this personal garden. “Sculpture is meant to be touched, it is three dimensional. Don’t be afraid to touch it.” Ray put my hands on the statue, had my arms embrace the figure. I had been to museums since I was a little girl, but always the “look don’t touch” rule had applied. This was a watershed moment . --- Georgianna Paul, Opera Specialist

As a child I loved Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Then it was blown up in 1970, presumably by anti-war protestors. Nobody took credit or was ever caught, so maybe it was just a vandal. I was anti-war and marched in the streets back then, but this made me experience senseless, pointless violent protest in a personal way. --- Terry Liu, Arts Education Specialist

One I remember would be Women Picking Olives by Vincent Van Gogh, which is just down the street at the National Gallery of Art. In school I dropped in on a docent lecture about it and remember being struck by the olive being the size of a pumpkin, thinking, “You can’t do that,” and then seeing it as funny. Van Gogh was not painting for the annals of greatness---he was having fun. The painting is all about the color and the feel, not accurate representation. I love the mellow pale green, brown and yellow tone. The women have green skin like the olives. And what a great way for Van Gogh to share his time in Provence, where olive gardens are all over. The painting has a great warmth to me and a reminder of how color, whim, and imperfection can reach people. Give us your impression of how it is, not how it is supposed to be. --- Sidney Smith, Artist Communities/Presenting Specialist

My first love was the cover of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek, which I carried around in second grade. My first love of “big girl” art was John Williams Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, where she departs the island in a boat, perfect storm of despair on her face, dragging her tapestry, with a candle still lit in the boat. I liked it because it brought Tennyson to life---and having the framed poster in my student apartment helped me look super cultured and smart! --- Jody Devine, Attorney Advisor

Growing up in Pittsburgh, the Calder mobile in the Pittsburgh airport was pretty impressive. It was orange when I was little. I think I probably saw it when I was four for the first time and was very impressed. --- Maryrose Flanigan, Division Coordinator, Literature and Arts Education

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969 was my first love. Rothko’s works are all so simple that there’s no choice but to be calm. It was the first time I looked at a painting and didn’t feel pressured to figure out what it was about. --- Joanna Woronkowicz, Senior Research Officer

In my case, it would have to be a collection viewed at a single visit, or series of visits: a Smithsonian exhibition [of James McNeill Whistler's Nocturne series] mounted in 1995, the year I moved to D.C. As an example, I'd offer  Battersea Bridge, still on display at the Freer. I found a lyricism and iterative working method that reinforced my literary interests at the time. I also dug his nocturnes and sketches, some of which, as Ezra Pound says in one of his saner pronouncements, are "Perfect as Durer." --- Sunil Iyengar, Director, Office of Research and Analysis

Mine wasn’t a famous or well-known work; in fact, I have no idea who painted it. It was a smallish painting in my parents’ 1970’s living room  depicting the French Quarter in the rain. Natives of New Orleans, my family relocated to Texas when I was very young, so naturally I associated New Orleans imagery with vacations and holidays and souvenirs and family. The painting was dark and oily, almost abstract---the kind of image a kid could wander lost in for hours. It made me realize that rain and stormy skies could be just as beautiful as the big, giant yellow happy-faced sun I inserted into all of my early works in crayon. --- Carol Lanoux Lee, Musical Theater/Theater Specialist

Mine was Workmen Before an Inn by Isaac Van Ostade. It was part of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, celebrating its 50th anniversary. I was ten and found myself completely transfixed. I’d always had a soft spot for the Dutch 17th-century landscape paintings. Being a DC native, we often visited the NGA and after that I always made sure to visit "my painting.”  --- Lara Allee, Presenting Specialist

When I was 13 my dad brought me to DC---our first trip together just he and I. He took me to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, which had a big Georgia O'Keeffe show on. Of course we didn't have tickets and it was sold out. Ever the charming conniver, my dad convinced the guard at the exit of the show to let us in. I was so struck by her cow skull paintings---it was love at first sight. Pretty soon there was a real cow skull on my wall and a bolo around my neck! --- Jason Schupbach, Director, Design

What was your first artful love? Let us know in the comments!

And don't forget to visit the NEA Facebook page all through October to find out which local arts organization is in the NEA National Arts and Humanities Month spotlight! 







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