Zorba the Hutt (zorbathut) wrote,
Zorba the Hutt

the louvre: world's largest collection of painted things

The Louvre is fantastic in the same way that original Star Trek and the aluminum pyramid on top of the Washington Monument are fantastic. I'll explain that in a bit.

The Louvre is very, very big. It's been gradually under construction for almost five hundred years. It's been added to, combined with other buildings, and added to again. I don't really want to try estimating how many miles of usable wall space it contains. I spent something around twelve hours straight there, and I estimate I saw about a third of it. And much of that I could go see again.

The Louvre is big.

They have astonishingly large collections of famous artists. They have astonishingly large collections of less famous artists. They have astonishingly large collections of artists that you've probably never heard of.

If you're thinking "there's no way all that art could be really good", you're right.

The Louvre is fundamentally a museum, not an art show. They show everything - the great works, other things the artist did leading up to that great work, less-great things the artist did at around the same time, less-great things the artist did at an entirely different time. Other artists of the time - great or not. It's a fantastic research tool, I suspect, but if you're going there to look at art it can get a bit dull.

And then there's the Original Star Trek problem.

Original Star Trek was incredible. It was different. It was truly groundbreaking. When you watch OST, you have to remember - there's a black woman on the bridge. In a position of power! (A telephone operator, admittedly. But you can't have everything.) And that? For the time, it's phenomenal.

For the time.

Because Original Star Trek, by and large, doesn't hold up to modern standards. The plot is cliche (never mind that it created many of the cliches.) The characters are uninteresting. The special effects, obviously, are hokey. The acting is . . . remarkable, in the most strictly technical sense of the term. If you want to go watch some good TV, don't watch Original Star Trek.

Which does not mean, in any way, that it wasn't an amazing piece of work when it was put together. It's just not particularly amazing now.

The aluminum pyramid on top of the Washington Monument is a similar deal. Refining aluminum was a bit tricky back then. It was expensive and the aluminum you got wasn't of particularly good quality. Anything made of aluminum was incredibly valuable - it was light, strong, and rare. Imagine gold, only useful.

So when they decided to build that pyramid out of aluminum it was a major decision. "We will spare no expense!" And they didn't. They managed to craft what was, at the time, an incredibly large and perfect piece of solid aluminum. And then a decade or two later someone discovered a far cheaper way to refine aluminum. These things happen.

So when I say "The Louvre was amazing", I mean it in the sense of "when you look at these paintings, they are impressive for the time they were painted." And when I say "The Louvre wasn't particularly interesting", I mean it in the sense of "these paintings are not very noteworthy for the present day". Both of those statements are accurate.

Because in the end, there's only so many near-identical pictures of Jesus you can take. There's only so many portraits of girls, and portraits of kings, and . . . well, I've just described about half of the Louvre's paintings. Jesus, girls, and kings. It wears on you after a time.

I suppose an art history major could spend weeks in there. But if you're looking for good art, you're going to be doing a lot of skimming.

There are other things in the Louvre than paintings. There's quite a lot of masonry. Arches. Columns. Statues. (I may be a bad person for snickering to myself the first time I walked into a room full of a dozen statues of saints . . . every last one missing its head. But I feel the saints would understand. There's something delightfully inevitable and ironic about it.) Much of it "suffers" from the same problem. (I am perfectly aware this is a failing of myself, not a failing of the Louvre.)

There is amazing stuff. There's the Victory of Samothrace. There's paintings that will make you stop and spend serious time looking at them - some because the medium is impressive, some because the work itself is impressive. There's a lot of famous stuff. (Most of which I didn't find particularly stunning. I am told, in the summer, there is an hour-long wait to get into the room with Mona Lisa. I do not feel it would be worthwhile.) There's a 6000-year-old pot. That's a pretty old pot.

Most of it's not really fascinating unless you're studying the timeframe. But it's interesting. And there's certainly a lot of it. I feel my time there was well-spent, and I'd like to see the rest of it. But once I've seen all of it, I suspect I could set up a "See All The Really Good Art" tour that ignored the historically impressive stuff, or the technically spectacular stuff, and went only to the pieces that I considered artistically beautiful. And that might be a three-hour-long tour. At most.

But it was quite an experience.

And the French? Man, those guys make fucking huge paintings.
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