I left the exhibit, Mr. Rookmaaker

I have to say even the cover of the book teaches you about modern art.
A friend who teaches art recommended this book, and aren’t I glad I got it? These days of pool and rest, Rookmaaker has been a first class companion.

The book will provoke numerous connections. I appreciate its simplicity and depth. I can say without reservations that thanks to this book, I UNDERSTAND what modern art means, and not only: philosophy, modernism, postmodernism, literature, world views, christianity, all that will be explained through the changes in art. Now I see with clarity why the topics depicted in paintings have varied in time, why changes in style have deeper consequences than a mere change in taste; They are rooted in new views of man and life.

The history of art is the history of man. Though the book is not a history of art textbook (to my relief, -grin-), but a thesis on the impact of modern art, it has enough information to follow the thesis. His remarks about painters, movements, works, and the black and white pictures, help us follow his writings and reminds us of what we may have learned in the past. But it is his thesis that forms a spine or skeleton where we can finally hang all the disperse knowledge of art we may have. Art is explained in the continuum of life and the answer to the fundamental questions of philosophy. Rookmaaker does not stop at the movement, painter, or work, he actually starts after a brief explanation of all that, and from there, he connects it all to the full scheme of history with the culture of the time, the history of our beliefs, the changes in society.

We bought this mug years ago, and only now I took the pens and pencils out and decided to drink from it.

Since this is my review, I will indulge in a few personal connections. I enjoyed all the painters I know well, like Goya and Picasso. I thought I could explain why they are pivotal in art, but the true reason why had escaped me until I read this book. Picasso is as Spanish as Italian is Columbus. Christopher Columbus was born in Italy, yes, but his mature life he spent in Spain,  where Spanish monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, financed his endeavors to ship to the Indies. In Spanish history books, we call him Cristóbal Colón, and take him for a Spaniard, no questions asked. Pablo Picasso may have been born in Spain, where he was baptized in the catholic church with this humble name: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad. He lived in Paris, married a Parisian woman, and lived most of his adult life in France. I am sure the french claim him too.

Thanks to the book I know why I have so much admiration for some Dutch painters. I also understood why I am drawn to some landscapes and family scene paintings, and why my daughters have the same attraction.

I now know why I never liked the kid books and watered down stories to teach Bible class to children. Why I don’t even think Bible class before seven or eight is a need, but more a forming of a habit for later on. It makes sense why I have always liked children in the worship, even when they do not grasp all the meaning of the lessons. And why I specially like them to be there for all the singing we do. Now I know why I have been so indifferent to the Veggie Tales and some Bible class materials, and why I have always respected the Biblical paintings of the past, even if I do not advocate the worship of saints or idols, praying to Mary, or the idea of canonizing. It is all related to how we answer the fundamental questions, where we stand in the view of life and mankind. If you want to solve some of your own art and philosophies in the history of humankind questions, and gain a proper understanding, this book is perfect. I am amazed at how well the author weaves many topics with ease and clarity. He must have been a very talented and good man. He had read Francis Shaeffer (who lately appears on all the reads I encounter), and Dorothy Sayers.

Last December, I went with the girls and a friend to some art exhibitions in Houston Downtown that displayed modern art. Not only we saw paintings, but those new installations that are so common these days at the galleries and museums. There were several sections with ‘adult material’ that we did not see. But even at a couple of those installations that had nothing overtly offensive, I told myself “no more of this”, and I left the exhibit, Mr. Rookmaaker. Funny, the only pieces that sparked some curiosity, were the old school modern paintings. As Rookmaker explains, we have gotten accustomed to react to modern art with interest, comment on the feelings those modern pieces provoke in us. We have been told this is art, and maybe we have been taught something about the painter, his life, his interests, so that we can observe and talk with confidence and recognition. But the newer the art, the stronger the rejection  from the children (who lost all interest after a while), and the louder the questioning from us, grown ups, if we manage to keep that original or initial reaction unbiased or unfiltered.

Two months ago, at Fredericksburg, Texas, we visited a local artists gallery and store, where they display and sell local artists paintings. There were several we would love to buy if we can part with a few hundred dollars. I decided then to gift each of our daughters with one of those paintings when they leave the house, at some time in their young adulthood. After reading this book, that idea is now a commitment.

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