Janet Moore, Author and Art Educator, 1906–1992
1980 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR LITERATURE
Janet Gaylord had been recognized in 1974 with a Special Citation from the Arts Prize Committee for her service to the arts in northeast Ohio as a teacher and as a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. But, as the years passed, a strong consensus developed among the cultural community’s leaders that Moore ought to be recognized as well for her contributions to the larger world of art in the form of two extraordinary books. For this singular woman, besides having been a legendary presence in Cleveland for almost three decades and an award-winning painter, was also a gifted author.
It was at the urging of friends that Moore wrote The Many Ways of Seeing: An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art (World Publishing, 1968). It was ostensibly written for the intelligent high school student; but, as Moore’s prose was free of any whiff of condescension, it was soon being recommended by adults to friends. Unlike more ponderous, academic guides to “art appreciation,” Moore’s little book (just 120 pages excluding notes and index, and lavishly illustrated) cut to the chase, addressing questions she knew, from her many gallery talks, lay at the heart of many people’s insecurity when it comes to art: what makes a painting good; why the new is always difficult; why art has had to go through so many changes; whether it’s possible to train yourself to see what others seem to see.
Learning to “see” art, she explains, is not simply a matter of intellectual detachment or cold scientific analysis, any more than it is just a matter of having an emotional response, though both have a place. Noticing how a work affects us, what elements stand out or especially appeal to us can also be helpful. Does it trigger memories, remind us of other paintings, upset or amuse us? As a matter of fact, says Moore—a fascinating thought—“At different times in your own life, you will find yourself attuned to the wavelengths of different artists.”
In addition to reflecting on our own experience of the work before us, she says, we should remind ourselves that the artist had his or her own very private experience of this work as it evolved. “Let us look at a painting by Van Gogh,” says Moore, “and think about what he saw and felt in the world of nature and what he adapted for his own purposes from the world of art.” Then she quotes a letter the artist wrote to his brother Theo in which he talks about these very things with respect to a painting called Wheat Field with Cypresses, which is reproduced here. Moore’s point is that many perspectives can be brought to bear on art: many ways, as her book’s title reminds us, of seeing. Indeed, a full—today, we might say “integral”—experience of (or reflection on) a work of art must involve all of them.
In a chapter titled “How an Artist Holds Our Attention: Line, Color and Form,” Moore shows us how to find clues to “the highly individual and personal ways of thinking and feeling that the master artists present to us” (see first excerpt below for an example). Then she does a lovely thing, she pauses in her exposition for what she calls an “Interlude”—several pages of reproductions offered for the reader’s reflection, for as all great teachers know, true learning happens in the course of first-hand experience. Meanwhile, Moore has quietly juxtaposed each of these pictures with a few lines from some famous writer or poet, and also with another painting, to jump start the process and perhaps gently nudge the viewer in some interesting directions.
In the second half of her book, another surprise: She now invites the reader to “take up a pencil, and draw” or “pick up a brush, and paint, if only to investigate the meaning of the words and phrases we have been using in this book”—and proceeds to supply a series of simple exercises or investigations that will allow the reader “to explore for yourself, and in a non-verbal way, the meaning of such words as line, color, form, texture, pattern, composition, rhythm, balance, energy, relaxation, open, contained.” And, don’t worry, she will talk you through it all.
Oh, and you have one more assignment: Get outside, spend more time walking, stopping, looking at things—the way people did in the days before jet planes and fast cars; and you will begin to see what the old masters saw. Furthermore, “The infinite variety of forms” you will encounter there, says Moore, “is a counterbalance to our mass-produced culture. Without such a personal awareness of nature’s forms, many of the delights and rewards of painting, sculpture, and architecture will be forever lost to you.”
In another chapter titled “What Artists Have Taught Us to See,” Moore gives examples of how paintings have changed the way we see the world. “Before seeing Chardin’s pictures,” she quotes Proust as saying, “I never realized how much beauty there was around me in my parents’ home, in the half-cleared table, the lifted corner of a table cloth, a knife beside an oyster shell.” An artist, Moore writes, is “able to forget ‘chair’ as something to sit in and see dark pattern against light wall so that the meaning ‘chair’ is less important than color, angle, light-and-dark pattern. He sees, we may say, with an 'innocent eye.' To really see, said the poet Paul Valery, 'is to forget the name of the thing one sees.'”
In 1979, Moore published a second book. The Eastern Gate: An Introduction to the Arts of China and Japan (Collins), with a glowing foreword by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s director Sherman E. Lee, an international authority on Asian art. Moore had spent a great deal of time in both countries even since falling in love with China during a year-long residency following her graduation from Vassar College. Her accessible exposition of key aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures—from the tea ceremony to the influence of Buddhism—along with what she knows about individual artists and their times, wonderfully illuminates the art that fills the pages of The Eastern Gate.
Moore had retired in 1975 to a cottage on the rugged coast of Maine (not far from Hanover, New Hampshire, where she was born) where she and her husband and spent summers since the mid-’60s. She died in 1992 at the age of 86.
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