Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow.
As I was driving back into Manhattan Thursday night, I realized that I’d left my phone plugged in to a charging station at my kids’ school. Should I turn around and drive the 10 minutes back to Riverdale to get it? No, I had another social engagement; I wanted to get to book club — we’d read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was looking forward to the discussion.
Besides, I thought, as soon as I arrive, I’ll call Cate who could email her dean and ask her to hold my phone. But we didn’t bother the dean. Because Cate reassured me, “It’ll be there in the morning. I’ll get it for you. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like a game. See how you do without your phone.”
Occasionally, on Friday, I found myself reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb. Especially, last night. See, I had an invitation to a preview of a show at Christie’s auction house and wanted to to snap a pic of the two- to three-million-dollar painting by Mary Cassatt of a girl in a bonnet.
The girl’s eyes drift to the side. She looks ready to play. Or maybe she is not allowed to play and she has become reflective. There seems to be as much nuance in her expression as in Mona Lisa’s smile. She is watching something. (She is not on her phone.)
Without my phone to snap the painting, I had to simply gaze at Cassatt’s intense colors and brushstrokes. Apparently, at an auction house, you don’t have to keep back from the art like you do at a museum, you can get right up in a painting’s grill.
Mind-blowing. The girl’s peachy skin reflected the peachy color of the bow. There was a quality of androgyny to the girl that I don’t think you can get in the reproduction.
Also, a painting, like this one, probably took forever to paint whereas a phone photo is snapped in an instant. In those museum photo grabs, the painting is like an animal — once hunted, purposefully captured, immediately stashed, promptly forgotten.
Having to look at the painting, without photographing it, made me remember it and interact with it. There was no screen, no filter. Nothing between me and the painting. It was refreshing. It was meaningful. It was a moment.
On the M5 bus ride home from Christie’s, if I’d had my phone, I would’ve gazed at the screen. Maybe scrolled through my Twitter feed, become irate at the first 100 days of the pres’s failing administration. I’d have begun to seethe.
But, without my phone, I read the Christie’s catalog. I learned Cassatt painted many children in bonnets. I thought about art. I gazed out the bus window. I saw many people with their heads down, looking at their phones.
When I returned home, Cate handed me my phone. She told me that it’d been right where I’d left it, at the charging station. I set my phone down.
“You were right. I don’t need it. I’m fine.” I’d been recharged by art without my phone.