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Emerson has something to say about the appreciation of pictures:

“So with pictures; each will bear an emphasis of attention once, which it cannot retain, though we fain would continue to be pleased in that manner. How strongly I have felt of pictures that when you have seen one well, you must take your leave of it; you shall never see it again. I have had good lessons from pictures which I have since seen without emotion or remark.”

I know what he’s talking about, so it’s really a wonder that some works can give repeated pleasure. The reason is that it’s not the same picture the second or successive times. One has to have the capacity to be surprised—a certain plasticity or weakness of character might be required. But inveterate museum goers also have to allow for the intermittence of feelings—they are not available on demand. The great weakness of Michael Fried’s criticism is his obsessive harping on the stability and permanence of the aesthetic experiences given by the artists he most admires. Meanwhile, Emerson’s boredom with the genius of others arises from his overriding interest in his own, an admirable trait.


Morris Louis, Theta 1961

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