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In which John marries his friend whose painting he once hung upside down, and contemplates the question of whether a Piet Mondrian painting was actually hung upside down for 75 years.







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Good morning Hank it’s Tuesday So before Sarah and I were married,  and before we were dating, we were friends.

And one evening in like 2003, we were hanging out at her apartment  and she showed me some of her recent paintings. They were mostly paintings of lines and they made me think about how  it isn’t actually possible for a person to draw a straight line,  because both the hand and the paint are imprecise and unpredictable.

Anyway, I liked them a lot, and so I asked Sarah if I could buy a painting,  and she gave me a painting– this painting–  for the friends and family discounted price of $50. So I went home, got the painting framed,  and put it up in my apartment. Oh god, uh oh (clears throat) Sorry I feel an advertisement coming on.  Now people are going to say John, you’re 45, don’t take this risk,  but I’m gonna take it.

Did you know that the  Awesome Socks Club is taking subscribers again? My brother’s wild idea of reinventing the sock business by allowing people  to have amazing socks and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to charity,  has exploded. We’ve got ankle socks,  we’ve got regular socks.

Link in the dooblidoo.  Use my affiliate link not Hank’s because he’s already had a lot of sales. Alright thanks to awesomesocks.club  for sponsoring today’s video is what I would say  if this had actually been a paid advertisement. Right so I get the painting framed and I put it up in my apartment.

Here’s what it looked like. I loved looking at this painting.  Kinda reminded me of the paths raindrops make as they slide down  a window, and I loved how the lines got denser closer to the middle,  and how they even sometimes converged. Now, observant viewers will have already identified the issue,  but I sure didn’t.

I just liked the painting.  In fact, looking at it now, I still love it. I’m reminded of the veins of a  ginkgo leaf how they approach each other without ever becoming each other. Anyway, a few months after  I hung up the painting Sarah came over to my apartment and let me know  in the politest way possible that I had hung it upside down.

In fact, it was supposed to look like this,  which now that I’m looking at it is probably better. This way it makes me think of that great  Flannery O’Connor title Everything That Rises Must Converge. In the years since, we have hung the painting at  multiple orientations.

Like, recently,   it’s been in my office sideways, so that the lines now seem to me  like distant mountain ranges or rows of crops in far-off fields. I am thinking about this partly because news recently broke that a Piet Mondrian  painting had been hanging upside down for decades in a German art museum  for seventy-five years. Now the story, like a lot of stories  turns out to be much more complicated than its headline.

The piece was unfinished-- Mondrian was probably working on it  when he died. And he was known to work on things upside down  or sideways on his easel,  and because the piece is unfinished and unsigned,  it’s impossible to know how Mondrian  would’ve preferred the painting to be shown. As the museum’s director put it, “We cannot know what is correct or incorrect,”  Which is a great sentence– one, that I should utter more often.

But I am also thinking about the upside-down Sarah painting because  it’s a reminder to me that art can bring wonder and pleasure in unexpected ways,  and whether the artist intended each possible road to wonder  is not as important as whether a viewer can find that wonder. Art that is created only for the person who created it can be great and valuable,  but art that is intended to be shared is inherently a collaboration. It is a commingling of the artist’s attention and the viewers attention.

The work of art is the place where those attentions come together. I think for art to work it has to involve mutual generosity–  the making of the work is a gift to an audience, and in turn,  the audience’s attention is a gift to the artist. This gift exchange is at the center of how I understand art.

And nineteen years on,  I find that this painting continues to reward my attention no matter its orientation,  in new and thrilling ways– to such a degree that at this point,  we cannot know what is correct or incorrect. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.