For a few, this word is the simplest psychological test to see if you are a dedicated fan of Jim Morrison. This is not a post about the Doors, guys.
For most, doors are about keeping pets inside and thieves outside.
In arts, doors function differently.
In fiction, doors are a conventional plot device.
A simple door can trigger an engaging plot by transferring the protagonist to a miraculous new world. A door creaks at the height of a passionate moment, and – bang! – Prince Charming now needs to make a formal proposal to the blushing daughter of Evil Queen who just stepped in. Andy McNab, an ex-SAS commando, has made a career in crime fiction by explaining that not only you don’t smash doors when infiltrating a building with terrorists inside (you open ’em doors very carefully), you have to close the door just as carefully after you entered the room, because you don’t want anyone to spring up on you from behind. I am sorry that you won’t enjoy reading Andy McNab now that I’ve revealed his plot structure.
In literature, doors offer endless possibilities with plot development, much more so than windows.
In visual arts windows dominate over doors. Windows create stories by establishing a conflict between the inside and the outside of a room. Painting a window is an easy way to make the painting interesting. Doors, and especially closed doors, are more complicated and less obvious devices to weave a plot, because the observers can’t see what’s behind them, and have to imagine it.
In this painting of a hopelessly classic French painter the door makes you imagine the world this Woman of Cairo represents. Your imagination is, of course, carefully guided by the artist. The caged bird, the contrast between live flowers and the design of the carpet that hangs over the entrance, the seductive pose and look of the girl: everything makes you think of the magic Oriental world into which you get teleported if you step through this door. Again, you don’t know for certain what you are going to find there. Perhaps, you’d get tea and a relaxing massage? Or you’d get caged as the bird above the door?
Doors raise questions, and instead of giving answers they make promises. That’s why, unlike windows, doors are ambiguous (you don’t always know what’s behind).
This is also why doors are employed by modern and contemporary painters, sculptors, and critics, who love to compensate their lack of ideas by complexity and ambiguity.
Paintings by Barnett Newman, one of the biggest names in American abstract expressionism are often described as “portals to the sublime”. A portal rolls in the mouth better than a door if you decide to go metaphysical, and “the sublime” (or its sister, “transcendence”) is a wildcard kind of word that critics use whenever they don’t really know what the heck they are talking about.
I am sure if Newman’s work is watched for an hour, some of the lines start pulsating, and their lights suddenly flicker, giving you the feeling of a door creaking open for you. That is, if your legs don’t kill you first. I, like most people, prefer other ways to achieve the same kind of nirvana,
I am sure many of my readers have remembered Rothko by now. A lot of people believe that Rothko’s doors are the best in class in terms of teleporting the viewer in a sour or cheerful mood (depending on the colour scheme, of course), but Rothko would probably strangle anyone who would compare his colour fields to a door with his bare hands, so I skip Rothko and go directly to Matisse.
His door of 1914 was one of the biggest door-related surprises this year (besides the time when I didn’t have keys to my own home and no one was there). In 1914, he stepped aside from his Fauvist cheerfulness into pessimistic dark blends, and I am sure you can feel it even in this photograph. The reflection in the glass is me. It gives a scale to the painting, and also jabs an accusing finger at Centre Pompidou who can’t be bothered to frame a modern masterpiece in museum-quality non-reflective glass.
Imagine yourself standing in front of it. Imagine you need to decide on whether you step through or walk past. Imagine what is waiting for you inside.
Once you’ve done the imaginings, you’d understand that Abstract Expressionism was not a revolutionary American invention but a concept that a Frenchman had once played with for a couple of years before dumping it as a waste of time and effort, and going back to his optimistically pure colours.
Life’s too short to make art that makes it gloomier than it already is.
Perhaps, contemporary artists have come up with new approaches to doors and the related metaphysics? (I am asking it with my tongue so deep in my cheek I appear to have a serious dental problem to an outside observer)
Let’s take the work of Steven Claydon, a contemporary British artist who is famous for both his sculptural work and playing pipes as a member of the Weird Sisters band in a Harry Potter movie:
He puts different doors on uniform metal fences hoping, as I understand, to create different meaning about the physically empty spaces that exist behind. Well, yes, it works, but I am not sure I am excited about this. Magritte said it all about closed doors opening up into different spaces, leaving us with so many doors one can spend a lifetime opening them all.
Are you aware of a contemporary artist who has produced a new plot using the door device? I mean, really new, and not a repetition of a century-old idea. Please let me know!
Also, please share with me anything recent and interesting you know about doors in paintings or sculpture! Or just the doors you love for some reason.