Posted by: Shanna Germain | 07/07/2009

Pg. 98: Wherefore Art I?


Stairway art: Bush graffiti on a cement wall in Edinburgh. The inscription reads, “Worst President.” I figure they might have a point.



  • Weather: Gray. Gray. Gray. Is there any other kind? Oh, yes, there’s the rain kind. It didn’t do that, at least.
  • Mileage: Too many. All up and down and around and all over the city. My feet are bruised on the bottoms. /cry.
  • Food: A mango and pineapple smoothie and a bacon and cheddar panini from Hula.
  • Discovery: I can’t tell the difference between an Irish accent, a Scottish accent and some English accents. What the f is wrong with me?
  • Media: The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
  • Worst Thing: Feet. Hurt. Owie.
  • Best Thing: The art museums in Scotland are free to the public. How brilliant is that?
  • Word of the Day: Auld Reekie. The alternate name for Edinburgh; it means “Old Smoky” and came into use in part because of all the smoky chimneys and in part because of the strong odor of the dirty city.


This is how I visit art galleries. Like a bee. Like this: Here’s a pretty flower. Ooh, look at that one. Ooh, I like this one. What’s it about? Stare. Stare. Ooh, look at that other one.

I skip a lot. Miss a lot. But I know what I like. What talks to me. I don’t always know why. I don’t know enough about art to understand or explain that thing that happens in my body when I see work that I like.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. That’s where I spent my day.

Damien Hirst talked to me. His clinical, clean, incredibly un-visceral way of exploring death. Every death — lamb, fish, human — portrayed as though it was not that at all. His boxes of medicine, lined up in cabinets, made me feel distant, clinical, standoffish. Which, it seems, is much of his goal.

Francesca Woodman talked to me. Her work, on the surface, isn’t about death. It’s about gender and body and fluidity and movement. About being woman. About being looked at, and looking. If anything, it’s the opposite of death. It’s death-defying. And yet, death is written beneath every photo, inside every shadow. And then to discover she took her own life, at 22, already successful…

Andy Warhol talked to me in a way he never had before. The early stitched photographs of cadavers, waiting women, the small captured bodies… they showed something about him, and his world, that I hadn’t seen before. Suddenly, he seems human again. Behind all the plastic repetition.

I walked into a room after all that, upstairs in the permanent collection, and there, on the other side, was this painting. Not very big. Overly framed, it seemed. Ornately framed for such a small, compact piece. There were other paintings in the room. Bigger, bolder, more “my style.” But that one talked. Not loud, but persistent. Pulled at me in a way that I could not ignore.

It was, I discovered as I got close enough to read the plaque, Picasso’s “Mother and Child.” (And, no, I can’t even begin to say how much the online image does not do it justice).

I’ve never seen a Picasso before. Not in real life, I mean. Not an original, I mean. I know there are people for whom Picasso is nothing more than a beautiful trinket. They own one. Or their parents owned one. Or they got dragged to art museums as a child and they’ve seen his stuff and moved on already.

Like I said, I don’t know art. I know words, yes, but I don’t know pencil or paint. I don’t know colors or design or shapes or symmetry. I don’t even know if those are things that are part of art.

But I do know that I stood in front of that image for a very long time and I felt blessed. Touched by some kind of greatness and understanding that seemed beyond the realm of humanity. If there is a god, a being higher and bigger and better than us, I was in its presence today. I’m sure of it.

How does one carry that kind of god in their bones? Does it lighten or weight them? Does the art save or destroy the artist? And which does it do to the viewer? Perhaps it does both. Perhaps it destroys us just a little bit so that we might know that we are saved. Or perhaps it saves us a little bit, so that we might remember what it means to be destroyed.

Far and fast, s.



Nipple art in the store front windows. I once got in trouble for…ahem…wearing my nipples like that. Now that I know it’s in vogue, I’m going to whip them out whenever I feel like it.


β€œI don’t like my nipples showing. They look like targets.” ~Sienna Guillory



  1. Lovely post, S! I think it’s rare and great to be moved by art.

    All museums/public galleries in the UK are free – unless there’s a special exhibition which you might have to pay for.

    • Aw, thanks A! I was thinking of you while I was there, and your ability to wander between all these worlds! Such a gift.

  2. What an insight. good post

    • Thanks so much!

  3. “I can’t tell the difference between an Irish accent, a Scottish accent and some English accents. What the f is wrong with me?”

    Irish speech is peppered with “ye” and “sure” and “now”. Scottish is more of a Sean Connery roll with sprightly leaps. English always sounds to me like their noses are slightly pinched.

    As for we Americans, Germans tell me regularly that we sound like we have potatoes in our mouths. Will have to take their word for it. As long as I don’t sound like George Bush!

    • Okay, yes, this helps! I can totally see that!

      And, yes, if you start saying, “I’m the decider,” I’ll be sure to throw rocks at you. Hehe.

  4. hey shanna..wish i could have been there with you..i dont wanna start bragging about art since i could speak about art forever and ever….its awfull..hehe*..anyway..beautiful postet with the easy hand of an artist..:-)

    • Oh, you’re another of those multi-talented creatures, aren’t you? Heh. I won’t pretend I’m not jealous! πŸ™‚

  5. I am the same way everywhere, stores, museums, carnivals – if it doesn’t grab my attention I’m moving on.

    I’ve been known to sit next to a marsh for hours just to listen to frogs or watch and listen to wheat blowing in the breeze.

    I admit that I once stopped my car on a country road, waded up to a fence to see what three cows were looking at ( look, they were looking at the same spot when I passed them on the way to town 20 minutes earlier.. little did I know that cows are even more easily amused than I am by a blade of grass or something. Though my mom assures me there must have been something like a ladybug or something more exciting than grass that I scared off)

    You know I never realize how weird I am until I write this shit down….

    /wanders off to find something shiney


    • Okay, I love love the cow story! That’s awesome… I can totally see myself… I mean, you… doing that πŸ™‚

      -throws a shiny off into the meadow-

      • /wanders off to find the shiney


  6. Oh Shanna, yay for art! You and the school board. My, my, my. Speaking of the good old days, remember Nipplemania? It’s still online — ha!

    • Oh my gosh… I totally forgot about that essay!!!! Such a good one!!

      Yes, I was thinking of you and wishing you were with me when I walked by these bad boys. We could have taught them a thing or four πŸ™‚

  7. Just love all of your little details…makes me feel like I am there. That is one thing I miss about not living in New York…the museums.

    Some days I would wake up with my only intention being to explore another wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have a crush on the women in the caress-like strokes of pastel of Degas and my heart beats faster with bold chunks of color and honest beauty of a Klimt.

    At the time, I was earning my degree in fashion, so I spent a lot of time in the costume wing. I would bring my sketchbook and pencils and draw, draw, draw…Costume being my focus, the history of fashion was a constant fascination.

    Down in the Village I visited an odd little place called The Museum of Sex. This was informative, corny and a little bit funny. There were historical sex toys on display, the first erotic images in photography and film. The history of the porn industry. Video clips. It was an experience…:-)

    Thanks for sharing…keep it coming…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: