Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Herb & Dorothy

Herb & Dorothy is a documentary about two ordinary people with an extraordinary art collection. In their lifetime, Herb and Dorothy Vogel collected over 4,000 pieces of artwork. Neither one had a background in artistic training, but they both developed an eye and a deep love for modern and contemporary art pieces.
This was an interesting documentary for me to watch because I have never been able to understand more abstract or modern art pieces. When I see a square canvas that is painted red, I don’t think that’s art. I think, “Oh man, my four-year-old cousin could do that no problem.” And then I always feel ignorant because apparently I’m not sophisticated enough to understand the significance immediately. Sometimes I wish the artist of a confusing piece of art could be there as I looked at it to explain to me what they were going for. I know not all pieces of art have to mean something, but surely there is some form of motivation behind each piece, no matter how simple. One of the great things about Herb and Dorothy is that they developed this understanding and appreciation for art that does not come so easily to people like myself. The audience becomes aware of this through the extensive footage of their collection, hearing interviews of them speaking about their feelings about art, and hearing interviews of artists and relatives who are acquainted with Herb and Dorothy speak about the couple’s unique grasp on artistic values and concepts. I can joke all I want about many pieces of art which I regard with contempt and label as the potential work of a toddler, but it is I who am missing out on an entire beautiful and complicated realm of artistic expression, and it is that weakness in myself that I admire so much as a strength in Herb and Dorothy.
My one qualm with this film is that I felt like it could have been a thirty-minute piece as opposed to an hour and thirty minutes. I felt like there was a lot of elaboration about Herb and Dorothy Vogel as unique art collectors, their relationships with the art community, and their relationship with modern art that was completely unnecessary. Perhaps the filmmaker felt the need to exalt the Vogels, to show the world what an amazing couple they are. The Vogels gave up everything they had for the sake of their art collection. They chose to live in a tiny, cramped apartment so that they could have money to buy more and more art pieces which took up so much room and forced the Vogels to stack boxes and papers in every other available space. They actively participated in the growth of a culture, and are responsible for preserving the history of modern art through several decades in New York. They lived for the art so much that they gave up comforts of a nice home. Their collection was worth millions but instead of selling it so they could afford a bigger home, they donated it to museums all across the United States so all might enjoy their collection. This passion and devotion to modern artistic expression is certainly unique and almost religious to the point that it is very beautiful and perhaps worth expanding so much upon. By dwelling so much upon the details of the lives of the subjects of this film, the filmmakers allow the audience to really come to know Herb and Dorothy Vogel. We understand them and so we make a connection to them, which aids in the overall impact and lasting impressions of this film. Because there is a strong connection to the main subjects, we appreciate the small and simple details of their lives and what they live for.


  1. You say you admire them for their ability to appreciate art, but do they inspire you enough to go out and learn about it?

    And they give up everything for the art? Is this exactly admirable? I feel, coming from the LDS perspective, that this is laying up their treasures on earth. It sounds like they're getting lost in art rather than living their lives. Did this come across at all? They did end up giving it all away, though, so maybe this is redeeming. Was art their religion or a way of appreciating the world through the lens of collecting?

    You mentioned certain things were completely unnecessary. But later say the details helped the audience to really know the characters. Would it have been as interesting and would you have cared as much without the extra hour?

    Anway... cool beans and yay art :)

  2. I do feel inspired to learn more about art. To me Herb and Dorothy are the perfect of example of going from ignorance to being the experts. If they can learn more about art, why can't I?

    I think that giving up everything for art is admirable in their case. They weren't giving up anything that they couldn't live without. I think it's pretty amazing that they sacrificed other worldly pleasures so that they could have this connection to the artistic world and to the artists of New York. I believe that art definitely was their way of appreciating the world through the lens of collecting. They tried their hands at it, too by taking classes and reading books but eventually decided to leave it to "the masters" and became avid collectors and supporters of the art community.

    Man, why do I always come across as contradicting myself? Maybe that's not a bad thing but anyway yes I initially felt that this movie was too long. I try to justify the length by saying that the extra details make the audience more involved with the lives of the characters. You bring up a good point...I probably wouldn't have cared as much about them without the extra makes me wonder if the information could have been organized in a more captivating way so that it wouldn't feel so repetitive.