Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Boatmen on the Missouri - Day 4

George Caleb Bingham
Boatmen on the Missouri (1846)
Oil on Canvas

Earlier I wrote a post about possibly not walking today and being raised as if I was some sort of royal. Then I lost the post in an inadvertent deletion. I will take that as a sign to look for other topics. Being a loner does have its moments of indecision, casting around for direction, reconnecting with self and daily direction. I have something more valuable than royalty, and that is freedom. Freedom to figure out what I want to do with life and then attempt to do it without being constrained by the expectations of traditions and my subjects. So far today I'm casting about - seduced by confusion - but that will probably clear up and I will be onto my amazing, free life.

Another of my emotional 'rocks' when young besides Zipper, nature and walks was my belief in Security represented by the houses and grounds of the 'Dynastic' families of my community. That was just about everybody as the community was configured at that time, and most of those people married each other - or at the farthest reach, someone's roommate from boarding school or college. This unshakeable belief in Security grew in direct proportion to the chaos that was my immediate family, and part of me really believed there was a life where everything and everyone was protected until they died a very peaceful death and were buried in the large family plot. Further I believed I would marry such a scion and live in Complete Security at last.

To the extent that I wasn't able to attain Security, I have - until this day - feltsome shame. Like I had done something wrong, intentionally taken the wrong fork. This was a split because I was also increasingly overjoyed by the twists and turns of my single life away from this perfect and imaginary scion. One area that has carried this aura of Security for me is Art - particularly American Art. In college I majored in American Studies and minored in Art History and had a Total Belief in the early colonialists, particularly the look of their houses and furniture and the grandeur of their educational institutions. On the surface I knew the some of the realities of the politics and psychological make up of these people, but deep down there was always a draw as if to something hallowed.

All of which - along with hearing of the death of one of the loveliest and most Secure of the matriarchs of my community and watching the first episode of Downton Abbey last night- made my visit to the American Art collection at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park a struggle today.

I did overcome my 'confusion trance' from earlier in the day and did walk after all. Golden Gate Park is about 2 miles from my home, approximately 24 flattish (for San Francisco) blocks and I find myself walking there more and more these days. The route there passes many interesting buildings and sites, the park in its entirety is a treasure, and the American Art collection is truly fine thanks to an enormous and superb donation by Blanche and John D. Rockefeller.

One of my favorite paintings is Boatmen on the Missouri (1846)by George Caleb Bingham. I've always taken the painting to be 'charming,' 'bucolic,' 'a true slice of life' along the fabled Mississippi. Somewhere in my mind like Abe Lincoln, and Mark Twain - just iconic Truly Great Midwestern. There was Security in this beautifully painted portrayal of midwestern amiability, love of work, relaxation with each other, love of the river.

Now that the scales are finally willing to drop from my eyes, I see that the men are actually the rascals (and worse) of the type encountered by Huck and Jim. Actual Mississippi boatmen - in this case woodhawks - were known to be unsavory, untrustworthy, crude, filthy and probably violent. Not Secure. The models for the painting are actually acquaintances of Bingham's presented in Renaissance style.

How many times have I looked at this painting? Many dozens in person and countless others in art books. Yet it has taken until today for me to open my mind to the realities of the painting. Revisionism is very, very difficult - especially when we are called upon to revise core level, survival, Secure ideals.

As I walked home I thought yoga which is always in the present had contributed to my ability to finally be willing to revisit my Security mindset. And just as I was thinking this I walked by a Russian cafe I'd never seen and sitting at an outside table was one of my yoga students. Hmmm...

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