Saturday, December 28, 2013


You know I like games, but not just competitive ones.  I also like slow-moving ones that work toward a common goal or at least a goal of some kind.  The one I'm playing on this iPad right now is called The Room Two.  As you might guess, it is the sequel to The Room.  

If you haven't played these kinds of games before, and they have existed at least since the days of the Apple IIe, they consist of you trying to get through a series of rooms, trying to figure out how the items in the room might work together, most likely, to help you to get out of the room and into the next. 

The Room, and now its sequel, are particularly elegant versions of this kind of game.  Not only is there a kind of Jules Verne-ish backstory, but each room contains all kinds of interrelated objects that require exploration, problem-solving, code-breaking, and, most of all, puzzles.

I love puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles.  And of the jigsaw puzzles, I especially like ones that are paintings.  Famous paintings.  Right now, we are working the puzzle of The Girl With The Pearl Earring, the result of a trip to the exhibition in Atlanta last fall.

And, I must say, it's the toughest jigsaw puzzle we've tackled.  If you recall the painting, you will remember that her portrait is surrounded in black, meaning that most of the painting consists of darkness divided up into laser-or-computer guided pieces that only distinguish themselves (slightly) during the light of day.  It's a bitch.

People may laugh at me for claiming this, but when you do a jigsaw of a painting, you get to know the painting intimately.  It's like taking a self-guided Art History class.  In putting the painting together literally, you learn how the painting was put together.  Even in two dimensions of mass-produced, stamped-out cardboard, you learn things about Vermeer's masterpiece that you cannot learn by looking at it in a gallery.

Don't believe me?  Well, ponder this: at best, in a museum, you can get about six feet away.  Yes, from that distance, you can appreciate the beauty and skill of the "Dutch Mona Lisa," but you can't see how it was put together.

When you build the painting as a puzzle, you really put your nose right up to it, into it.  You have to.  You follow cracks in the paint, trying to match up tiny lines.  You grasp (some of) the full blend of colors that go into creating a shaded nose or the folds in a headscarf or the "white" of an eye.  You see the red mixed into a region that has no apparent red in it.  You see that what you thought was a uniform black is black and brown and dark red and even a gauze of white.  When you put a jigsaw puzzle together in two dimensions, you learn the layers that lie within a flat, shiny surface.

It is rewarding.  I am convinced of that.  As I was working on the puzzle with two children who are Art History majors, I remarked that "I feel like I get to know a painting intimately when I put it together as a puzzle."  My older child thought that I was being sarcastic.  I assured her that I was not.

Jigsaw puzzles, any puzzles really, force us to stop and to examine how something was put together, whether it's a word in a crossword or a pair of painted (and then painted) lips.  That analysis, I would argue, leads to appreciation.  When I saw a Picasso painting in a museum after putting it together as a puzzle, I thought, "I know that painting."

I didn't mean that I recognized it.  Even though I did.  I meant that I could grasp how the apparent imperfections of each of its sections coalesced into an overall genius.  And I could do that in my own way--in the same way that the artist must have searched for exactly the right colors, for the match of lines, for the way the brush moved from clear stroke to fading blur, I did the same thing.  Not in the same way, of course, but in the ways that made me the ultimate aficionado of those decisions.  I, too, had agonized over them.

1 comment:

troutking said...

This is good. It would be very useful as an introduction to a teaching in-service session.