There comes a time in our lives when we are confronted with what is known as the blank wall. You can't exactly hang a chair from it, so ultimately we must deal with this framed thing called art. Not all of us are led to the "Holy Grail" by such pragmatic reasoning, but eventually we must choose something. Apart from the decorative function, on occasion, art offers an emotional draw that speaks to a higher purpose.
*Photo of Harold Altman's "Bridal Path" courtesy of Mark Doren.
Some years back, a doctor's wife, with the assistance of her interior designer, began the process of selecting art for her home. Over a period of several months, armed with fabric swatches, paint chips, wallpaper, and carpet samples, they made their selections. On occasion they would prompt the good doctor to accompany them on their sojourns. This always seemed to complicate the process. What he was attracted to was either the wrong size for the space, or a conflicting color with the accent pillows, or just making the wrong statement altogether. Frustrated, he typically left for his office leaving the task of art selection in more "capable" hands. However, one afternoon, he came into my gallery unescorted by his interior designer and his wife. I found him standing in front of a painting, very much absorbed by it. He had singled out a contemporary, impressionist style painting of what was basically a bridle path with a horse and rider. On the few occasions he had accompanied his wife and designer to my gallery in the past, we really had not spoken to each other. Before I could latently introduce myself he said, "I would like to buy this painting." Somewhat stunned, I reminded him that his wife and designer had some very specific criteria and that he might like to have them come in. "No," he said. "I want to take it with me." I consented that it would be fine to take the painting home and live with it for a few days before deciding whether to purchase it. Knowing that his selection was not in the major plan of the powers that be, I was not anxious to process the sale. He insisted, however, in cutting a check. So I told him I would hold off on cashing the check until he was certain.
A Call from the Soul
Several days later, while shutting down the gallery for the night, I noticed someone at the door. It was the doctor. He apologized for coming by so late and wondered if I had a minute. Opening the door for him and inviting him in, he shook off the snow and took a moment to compose himself. He began by telling me that the painting did not meet the approval of the "art committee." He said, "I don't like horses; I've never ridden. Actually they scare me." A little dumbfounded, I defensively commented that it had good balance and was well painted. He explained that as a child he spent almost every summer with his grandparents on their farm. He told me that the memories of those times were the best for him. "When I look at that painting, I'm drawn to it; the way the sun filters through the trees lighting up small patches on the path. I'm there again, I can smell the grass. I can feel the warm air. I'm there again; I'm that small boy. Iâ€™m back on the farm." He said that he would be keeping the painting but that it was exiled to the guest room. "Every morning I go out of my way and peek in on it. I get my fix for the day." He said he wouldn't keep me any longer, but wanted to let me know that I should cash the check.
Mark Doren is the director of the Gallerie 454 Group, which was presented with a special tribute from the state of Michigan in 1990 for their orchestration of the first American Exhibition of Contemporary Soviet Art, benefiting the American Cancer Society. Mr. Doren has many important works to his credit, has participated as expert testimony in numerous litigations, and lectures extensively on art and art-related subjects here and abroad. He is a contributor to Chronicle Guidance Publications as a reviewer in regard to museum curatorship.