Seurat Out Walking and Drawing on an Ordinary Sunday

Many people probably think Georges Seurat looks just like Mandy Patinkin, having become acquainted with the late 19th century French painter through Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. While on my way to the Museum of Modern Art the other day, I remembered the dramatic spine-tingling dramatic sequence in the musical, hearing the music, too - "People strolling through the trees....Of a small suburban park....On an island in the river...." - when the actors slowly move to their assigned positions to assume roles within the tableau vivant of Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte–1884... "On an ordinary Sunday." Gives me chills just thinking about it.

MoMA's exhibition Georges Seurat: The Drawings opens up several avenues of peripatetic inquiry, so I've been hitting the books and scholarly literature to learn more about the late 19th century's craze for walking. Last night I read and underlined every word of "Everyday Life in Motion: The Art of Walking in Late-Nineteenth-Century Paris" (The Art Bulletin. Dec 1., 2005) by the late Nancy Forgione, a brilliant art historian who possessed a keen understanding of walking as well as painting. You can read the essay, sans images, here.

Among her brilliant observations, Forgione emphasizes the way walking engages the body, mind and vision, so much so that walking leads to a fuller understanding of the self. Walking through the cityscape can become the means by which our inner and outer worlds can be more fully integrated. Of the late-nineteenth-century painters, she writes, "Like other confirmed walkers throughout history, the artists seem to understand the body's role in mediating between consciousness and the world."

See? See? See? Walking makes you smarter and more artistic, except, of course, when talking on a cell phone at the same time. While walking and talking on a phone, the self splits away from the here-and-now of the street and shatters into several pieces, falling with other debris onto the sidewalk and into the gutter.

Georges Seurat: The Drawings continues at The Museum of Modern Art through January 7, 2008. View the online exhibition here.

See the related post: Walking With Seurat in the Deepening Darkness.

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