Some of you know that I had a chance to go to Tokyo last month. I was busy with work for most of my trip, but I had enough free time one morning to go to a museum. I went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, to see the Monet exhibition.
I have liked impressionist art since I was a child. Some of my best memories of growing up in Los Angeles are of looking at the beautiful paintings on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum there.
Monet is one of my most favorite artists, so I was very much looking forward to seeing so many of his paintings for the first time. It was also my first experience going to a popular exhibition in a Tokyo museum. I waited for over 40 minutes to get inside, and each gallery was very crowded. Everyone was waiting in line to walk past each painting. Most people looked at the pictures up close for a few seconds before moving on, but I wanted to look at each picture closely. I waited a long time to get up to the front of each group, and I stood looking at each picture for two or three minutes. I tried to see everything – every brush stroke, every detail – as closely as I could.
I enjoyed looking at the pictures, and I was almost ready to leave. But, at the exit there was a sign. It said もう一度ご覧になりたい方はこちらからどうぞ. I was surprised. Here at Sapporo’s KinBi, we don’t have any signs like that. I followed the sign, and went through the whole gallery again.
But this time, I had a very different perspective. I had already seen all of the pictures, so I could relax more as I looked at them, and really enjoy them. I didn’t try to get so close to each painting, but rather I looked at each one from about three meters away.
And I was shocked. The paintings were different! They were so much more realistic when viewed from farther away. Many people think that Monet’s work is unclear or that it lacks detail. But in reality, it is very clear and realistic. His paintings look very much like the real things that he is trying to depict, but only when viewed from a good distance. It was like really seeing them for the first time.
No one would look at a photograph on a computer screen from a distance of two or three centimeters. That is too close. You would only see the colored pixels in the screen, and lose the meaning of the picture. But when viewed from the proper distance, a photograph on a computer or tablet screen can be strikingly real.
I had a profound experience in this museum, and I think it will change the way I look at art in the future. I will try going through an exhibition more than once, and looking at each picture until I find the right distance.
I think it’s possible that a lot of people go to museums and pay money and wait in line, but never truly see the art.
I hope we all can slow down and look at things from the right perspective.