Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Art of Subtraction

The Writing Chair by Andrew Wyeth.

My mother was an artist of subtraction. When she died, I was astounded to find that there really wasn't any junk in the entire house. There were mementos, important papers, and various objects, and many photographs of loved ones on display and in boxes, but nothing superfluous, no redundancy. This art of restraint was part of her aesthetic and showed itself in her interior decorating, which was based on the artful arrangement of high-quality objects and furniture--nothing was added, except always a touch of whimsy or the unexpected.

I am far more greedy, and although I do not like clutter, am far more prone to compromising to add in objects I have affection for. I love paintings and heaven for me might be looking at all my favorite paintings all at once--not something I can achieve in my living room. But at this point in time I feel a need for a more streamlined and bare essential existence, wanting to know exactly what object is there and what its purpose is, and not have to think about anything extraneous. Note here that I, as opposed to so many, have the luxury of discarding.

Master Bedroom by Andrew Wyeth.

This is not to say that I embrace the streamlined aesthetic of modernity. Given the right use of color, this aesthetic might be visually appealing in a magazine, but I would never want to live there. The trick seems to be striking the balance between a simplified aesthetic and a coziness that is home.

This is probably why at this point in time I feel so drawn to the art of Andrew Wyeth, a master of the art of subtraction. His interiors seem to be stripped to the barest essentials of the soul. Nothing is extraneous. Every object is drenched in meaning and speaks of a history, a history we could never put in words but we can feel the weight of it. This is the beauty of his art: subtraction, and light.

Ship's Clock by Andrew Wyeth.

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