11 x 14At MOMA in NY there is, currently, a wildly-successful exhibit of a real woman, the artist Marina Abramovic, who sits silently in a chair for the entire day - no bathroom breaks, no food or drink. Across from her is a chair for another person to sit and gaze at her. Some people sit for minutes, some for hours, but most seem moved by the experience of being allowed to look at her openly. Many people cry. Wonderfully, there is a flickr photostream which documents the portraits of these people as they look at Marina and it also notes the length of time that each one sat.
I won't get to see this exhibit but I think I understand something of the intensity of looking at a human face. We all do.
I feel it often when I look at paintings of people in museums. Gazing at the faces of men and women, I'm struck by the fact of their presence - their personalities - fixed on canvas though their bodies are long gone. It's a melancholy experience and has a complexity that I've never felt in front of any other subject matter. I've never wondered about the experience of a tree in an old landscape painting, or whether a piece of fruit in a still life was eaten after the painter was done.
But with a painting of a person, I wonder how that person lived, loved and died. I imagine the relationship between the painter and the sitter, and I think about how short our lives are. All this narrative and emotion from some paint on a canvas. Imagine the thoughts that Marina must evoke.