Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forms of Clouds

I have a window in my office.

The bottom fifth is a freeway interchange, which sounds awful but actually isn't. None of the cars go at quite the same pace, but from here, it looks like they still get where they're going. They just keep moving in this endless stream in all directions. It feels a bit like the roads are full of possibilities.

I suppose I should say the freeway is in the bottom third of my window, because the sun is always in the top fifth and makes that whole section not really usable as something to look out of. Unlike Copernicus, I do not wish to destroy my eyes by staring at the sun.

My gym is also in this bottom third of my window. The air conditioning units and gravel, the whitewash, the skylights are all I see of it all day long. I wish contemporary roofs were prettier.

So, that's a new thing. I'm going to the gym. I hope it sticks!

I'm writing, though, because of the top two thirds or maybe top three fifths of my window. It's big Texas sky. This morning, it was as open and blue as a piece of inordinately pretty paper, and now it's fluffed up with clouds. There is this one Georgia O'Keefe painting in the Art Institute of stacks and stacks of almost rectangular clouds. It's a huge piece, so they have to put it in their stairwells (which are enormous) or hallways because it's just too big for a gallery. I didn't get it until I moved here.

I didn't get a lot about Chicago until I moved here. I didn't get how rare it was to be able to walk places, I didn't realize how well I had contextualized myself in the city, I didn't get that Chicago really was a place I went home to, that it made sense to me. But mostly I didn't get this painting.

When the sky is big like it is here, it is stretchy. Clouds a certain distance away only show you their bottoms as they wander off towards the edge of the earth -- like tabs in a gmail chain, they just show you that first line before the next tab comes up. Actually, these clouds look exactly like an upside down gmail chain, with the big open letter at the top, by my window, and then tabs of the last line (instead of the first) all the way off to the edge of the earth. Though the whole thing appears to collapse on itself, eventually. It seems to curve into itself at the end. I can see why people thought there was an edge to the earth -- except that from here, the flat horizon is a curve.

So this painting is a long, wide, short stack of clouds. It's what these clouds would look like if you picked up the part where the cloud-tabs collapse into indefinite distance and pulled forward, but only allowed them as much space in the horizon as they are taking up right now. The top ones would stay big, but the bottom ones would get small and rectangular.

I like it when I see the Form of what a piece of art meant to capture -- though maybe the art is the Form and the sky is the imitation. And maybe, still, they are each the best possible version of what they are, endlessly imitating nothing at all. Take that, Aristotle.

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