Last week during my regular working hours–I want to say “at work” but after all these months I still feel like working at home is kind of a weird gray area–we had a lot of lengthy meetings about the protocols for returning to the office. Since I work on a college campus during normal times I regularly go to different buildings to meet with people in different departments, and sometimes when I take a break or go to lunch I might go hang out in an empty classroom. Or I might go to one of the campus art galleries.
When I’ll actually go back to work is still to be determined, but for the first time in months I’m starting to see it as a possibility. Once I go back to my actual office, in a building I don’t also call home, a lot of the venturing out I’m used to doing will probably be verboten. But if the art galleries are open it will be a chance to get out and stand in front of actual paintings. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several months thinking about a comment by the art critic Robert Hughes I read, well, several years ago:
Every time I lecture, there is always some Gatesian nerd out there in the audience who sticks up his hand and says, “Well, since we can perfectly reproduce an image on a high-fidelity television screen, why do you need to go and see the original?” And the answer is because paintings are things in the physical world, made out of colored mud smeared on a piece of cloth or a piece of board, with a stick with hairs on the end. They have a particular address to your body, and none of this comes across in the computer image
There are levels of detail in a real painting that, at least with our current technology, can’t be reproduced on a computer screen–textures where the paint is layered. As much as we may think of paintings as flat they’re really three-dimensional objects, and I’m looking forward to eventually getting out and seeing the originals.