Seeing art through new eyes Television: Tonight, MPT begins its five-part series 'Sister Wendy's Story of Painting.'

September 07, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

If only we all had Sister Wendy's eyes. Not to mention her enthusiasm.

Sister Wendy sees a cave painting in France and reads it as proof that prehistoric man was "like us in all the ways that really matter."

She sees a portrait in the volcano-preserved Italian city of Pompeii, with a man looking away awkwardly and a woman glaring straight at us, and marvels at "the elegant wife who, I think, will drive the family car."

She sees a minimalist painting by Agnes Martin, and relates that "if you look long enough, happiness happens."

Sister Wendy looks at paintings and sees beauty and struggle, humor and faith, and all sorts of emotions. And she tells us about them in a way that's not so much Art Appreciation 101 as a chat with a beloved aunt. You come away enchanted -- and a lot smarter.

The five-part "Sister Wendy's Story of Painting," debuting at 9 tonight on MPT, channels 22 and 67, takes viewers from 20,000-year-old Lascaux cave paintings in the south of France to the soup cans and Marilyn Monroe images of Andy Warhol, with stops between for the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the Book of Kells, Michelangelo, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Jackson Pollack and a host of others.

A member of the Sisters of Notre Dame since 1946, Sister Wendy, 67, has lived the contemplative life since 1970, with only two hours a day set aside for work. She's spent much of that time appreciating art -- not studying art, for that implies an academic approach she might scorn. Rather, she listens with her eyes and her heart to what the art is saying.

Looking at the Mona Lisa, she interprets that famous beatific grin as amusement on the part of the model. How ironic she must have found it, Sister Wendy explains, that this famed artist, one of the most respected figures in Italy, was painting her portrait -- especially given his preference for young boys over women.

"She knows that the eternal mystery of womanhood means something quite different to Leonardo than it does to anybody else she knows," Sister Wendy explains, "and she's enjoying it."

Such insights are peppered throughout the series, which airs Sundays through Oct. 5. Each evening is broken into two 30-minute segments.

* Tonight: "The Mists of Time" visits prehistoric and ancient civilizations and ends with a look at the Book of Kells and its magnificent plates. "The Hero Steps Forth" looks at the explosion of art that shook 14th-century Italy, beginning with the Florentine painter Giotto.

* Sept. 14: "The Age of Genius" looks at the Renaissance, focusing on such famous painters as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Botticelli. "Two Sides of the Alps" looks at art in Venice (Bellini, Titian) and Northern Europe (Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein).

* Sept. 21: "Passion and Ecstacy" concentrates on the Baroque period (Caravaggio, Carracci). "Three Golden Ages" visits the Golden Age of the Baroque, which includes such famous names as Vermeer and Velazquez.

* Sept. 28: The effects of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, as reflected in the paintings of Gainsborough, Ingres and Goya, are examined in "Revolution," while "Impressions of Light" introduces Monet, Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh.

* Oct. 5: "A New Pair of Eyes" looks at how painters like Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse changed the way artists view the world. "The Never-Ending Story" brings Sister Wendy to the present.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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