He put the noise in, too

Look into this painting. See it? See the horse? The people standing on the dock? The little boy crossing the bridge? Now. Listen to this painting. There are some paintings that are very noisy and this is definitely one of them. It's not just all the chugging engines, the clanking chains, the sloshing water, the rattling oarlocks. The lines are noisy. In this city, with buildings, boats, and factories crammed into every corner a church tries to be quiet and upright. But then those wires go zinging past it. The city is Frankfurt, and the painting is called ``Iron Footbridge in Frankfurt.'' Frankfurt is a big city in Germany where the painter Max Beckmann lived. Some painters like to paint pretty flowers or mountains or fields. Not him. He liked to paint places where people were, and people were mostly in cities. But where are the people in this picture? It's a picture of a ``footbridge'' but feet are small and soft in places. Nothing small or soft about this bridge! It roars across the picture! The people seem to tiptoe meekly across it. It is all those things that are noisy, that have energy, not the people.

How does he do that? How does the painter make us think of all these things having energy? What makes the lines so noisy? Well, look at the lines. Look how many there are and how many are slanted. Try this: Draw a line straight across a piece of paper. What does it make you think of? A peaceful lake? A quiet sky? Restful things? Now draw a line straight up and down. Do you think of upright, unmovable things like trees or walls? Now draw a slanting line. Now aren't things tottering, tilting, off-balance, going someplace and you don't know where?

It takes great skill to balance a painting with all those slanted lines, but Mr. Beckmann could do it and leave the painting charged with energy, yet staying right in the frame. You can't imagine sleeping through this picture any more than you could sleep through Times Square!

Isn't that an amazing thing to say about some paint stroked on a piece of stretched cloth? But that's the haunting thing about art: An artist makes a painting, then, if we look into it and think about it, suddenly we're seeing not only what he sees, but what he feels, thinks, and even hears! It's true! Max Beckmann once wrote: ``Strange that in every city I always hear the lions roar!''

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