Paying to walk around vast rooms with crowds of people oblivious to others, all with the same purpose: to stand in front of canvas squares, rectangles (sometimes circles) covered in paint and surrounded by wood. When described like this, visiting an art gallery seems like a strange thing to do.
This morning I went to the National Gallery of Victoria to visit this year's Winter Masterpieces - Monet! The idea of standing in front of a picture suddenly struck me as odd - perhaps as I was jostled and blocked by a fellow visitor ensconced in the bubble of their audio tours. A square on the wall seems so unromantic, non-poetic and unlovely.
I wasn't moved to tears as I often can be when viewing art works. I wondered why. Afterall, I was struck by the extraordinary beauty of Monet's work. Then I read somewhere that he painted "senses" rather than "emotions". I found myself to be more emotionally engaged by the story of a master painter's failing eyesight. It brought to mind Beethoven's deafness. What pain this must be when the body betrays the artist's ability to create their art. And then there was a set of the corrective lenses worn by Monet to help deal with the colour distortion he suffered differently in each eye. They look so small and delicate and vulnerable. I felt so sad for Monet's suffering.
In the same glass box where the spectacles are kept is Monet's clay pipe and also his artist's palette. It is timber and the daubs of paint make it look like a Monet painting itself.
The third room with the enormous decorative waterlily panels is glorious. To get the full story of these pictures you really do need to stand back. Some of the pictures which are in the smoke and fog suddenly come into focus only from 5 metres away.
As is usual when I visit the art gallery, strangers engage me in conversation about the works. One woman described feeling overwhelmed and choked up by one of the renditions of waterlilies as she explained Monet's influence on interior design. She referenced the turquoise ring I was wearing to emphasise her point. Another woman leaned over and commented on the beauty of one of the pictures. My companion looked on puzzled by all these people talking to me. "People talk to me," I explained.
Despite arriving at opening time, there was a very long line and the gallery was extremely busy. This was on a weekday. I would avoid weekends at all costs. And I would ask visitors to the gallery to engage your peripheral vision and be aware that you are not the only person in the gallery. Perhaps an etiquette lesson should be compulsory before a ticket will be provided. Imagine - certificate IV in gallery etiquette!
As I stepped back into the grey Melbourne day with its bitter, icy wind I relished the morning I had spent in the sunshine of Monet's garden.