Skip to main content

The Flâneur's Sketchbook and Camera

I've been spending the morning contemplating what to do with this nice day, but after reading about the openings of the two big drawing exhibitions at the Met and the Morgan, I've decided that drawing shall be the theme of the weekend. I plan to visit these public showings and report back, including notes of whatever transpires on the walks to and from the museums.

As the weather brightens, I'm thinking like a flâneur again, as opposed to the couch potato who has spent the last five days watching HDTV. Drawing as an expressive art form appeals to me as a stroller of the streets. As I've come to discover, many artists, especially in the flâneur's heyday of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were fond of walking the streets and countryside. I'm particularly thinking about Seurat, Kirchner and Van Gogh, all of whom I've written about. What better way to observe the world than to walk through the environment and sketch what one sees? Drawing requires thought, focus, and concentration and what an artist friend of mine calls "a lot of eye-hand coordination." It's a fun pastime, but many people chicken out.

The flâneur, as both a participant and observer of street life, should always have some tools handy to record his or her strolling experiences. The portable camera is certainly one of these instruments. While the flâneur is understood to be highly perceptive, and more so than the passive consumerist tourist, we should expect higher standards of photography from these artist-strollers than from the simple recording of a tourist experience. Indeed, street photography and flâneurie enjoy a close relationship, born out in the work of Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Eugene Atget, and many more. That said, the advent of fancy digital cameras give even the most disengaged of tourists the wherewithal to snap some nice images.

The flâneur has earned a reputation as being something of a dilettante, a person with some light interest in the arts. Sketching seems particularly suited for people in my line of work. Bringing along a small sketchbook on a stroll seems a perfect way to record observations in both words and images. As dilettantes, we don't feel pressured to attempt the well-executed drawing once we're back home. This is particularly true for those of us with large television sets. Cell phones are to be avoided on strolls and used only in case of an emergency.

This morning, I discovered a terrific link to artist's sketchbooks online. Many belong to famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Jacques-Louis David, David Hockney, and Vincent Van Gogh, but many of the books represented are the work of contemporary artists of demonstrated skill and imagination.

Here are the details of the two drawing exhibitions opening in NY this week:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue:
Raphael to Renoir: Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna
January 21, 2009–April 26, 2009

Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street:
The Thaw Collection of Master Drawings: Acquisitions Since 2002
January 23 - May 3, 2009

Images: Sketch of legs and feet aboard the A train, from my sketchbook; and photo of Caffe Dante, 79 Macdougal St., Greenwich Village, U.S.A. Cafés are a flâneur's best friend.

Comments

Anonymous said…
a picture of Dante's was just what I needed today. Really.

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

An Architectural Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Route

The 85th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, November 24, 2011 beginning at 9 a.m. will follow a path from Central Park West at 77th Street down to Columbus Circle , then take a quick jog east on Central Park South before heading down 7th Avenue to 42nd Street. Here the parade takes another little jog east to 6th Avenue and then continues south to 34th Street. The finale moves one block west on 34th to Herald Square, the location of Macy's . Balloons from an earlier year try to pump themselves up the night before the big parade.

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

Walking in Woodstock

For anyone looking for an escape from New York, or a place to drop out for a few days, Woodstock, New York would be a good choice. While the musical festival associated with the town’s name took place decades ago and some sixty miles away, the small mountain town, located in Catskill Park about 100 miles north of the city, is blessed with tall trees and a gentle spirit. Rolling streams, many of them suitable for swimming, cascade through the area.    View of the Village Green. Woodstock, NY. Of course, you will still find peace, love, music, and all matter of tie-dye in Woodstock. Many of the shops along the town’s main road, Tinker Street, sell merchandise associated with the famous 1969 festival. Merchants this year are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, as Woodstock once played its part as an East Coast version of Height-Ashbury. Woodstock is also commemorating the centennial of the New York State passage of the Suffrage Amendment in 1917. The town was

14 Useful Mobile Apps for Walking New York City

Texting and walking at the same time is wrong. Talking on the phone while strolling down the street is wrong. Leaving the sidewalk to stop and consult the information on a cellphone, preferably while alone, is OK. What's on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone: A List Walkmeter GPS Walking Stopwatch for Fitness and Weight Loss . While out walking, Walkmeter tracks routes, time, speed, and elevation. This is an excellent app for recording improvised or impromptu strolls, especially with many unplanned detours. The GPS function maps out the actual route. The app keeps a running tally of calories burned while walking, useful for weight loss goals. Another welcome feature is the ability to switch over to other modes of activity, including cycling. An indispensable app for city walkers. $4.99  New York City Compass , designed by Francesco Bertelli, is an elegant compass calibrated for Manhattan, with indications for Uptown, East Side, Downtown, and West Side. While facing a cert