Collecting Thoughts; or, What I Learned About Blogging from Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza

Well, I’m back from my weeklong trip to the center of the Iberian peninsula (that is, a stay in Madrid, with an excursion to Toledo) and am pleased to report how invigorating it can be to go away, come face to face with one’s own ignorance, and return in a confusion of humility and inspiration—souvenirs to be put to better use than dust-gathering bric-a-brac. To be sure, I still cannot tell one Spanish monarch from another—except for the baby-faced Fernando VII and the big-nosed Carlos III, on the representation of whose none too prepossessing visages a fair amount of oil and canvas were expended. I still cannot order a Spanish meal without half-guessing what might end up on my plate—except that the tapas-and-cervezas cuisine is so lacking in variety as to render an extensive culinary lexicon unnecessary. And I still cannot relate to bullfights, flamencos, or devotional art—except that I know better than to reduce arcane passions to patent stereotypes. I did learn something about blogging, though—and it was the Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza who, however unwittingly, conveyed the lesson.

Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, of course, is the wife of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, the steel magnate-collector who displays his artistic riches at the magnificent Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, a generous sharing of his increasing wealth for which he gets amply rewarded in contracts throughout the city (you’ll notice the name of Thyssen wherever there’s a construction site—and there were plenty all over town).

Unlike her husband, the Baroness only started collecting in the 1980s. She seems to have a taste for the famous or nominal, but little sense of what is first-rate or exemplary. Her collection is overwhelmingly large and, for the most part, put together without much grace, wit, or discrimination. She bought up third-rate paintings of first-rate artists, apparently at great speed, and caught many a masterful painter on an off day. Her husband had an eye—she’s got the Euros. That, at least, was my impression when I walked through the vast and ultimately stultifying Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. So, what have I learned?

In a sense, a blog is a collection of thoughts. It may be regarded as a museum, a virtual storehouse of words and images that are culled from various sites, commenting, like all art does, on the world of today—be it society, politics or religion.  Many bloggers are savvy name-droppers; quite a few exploit their writing for advertising purposes; some are merely providing the odd caption to the works they borrow. Others, like myself, simply try to share what they care about but disseminate thoughts without quite knowing how to reach either a specific or general audience, without being fully aware of the potentialities of their enterprise.

In other words, not all bloggers are good curators of their thought museums. Their growing collections may lack direction or purpose—rendering all but useless what might be of some small service to the few or many; unless the viewer, aware of the individual pieces in the museum, has the freedom to steer past the profusion to approach directly what matters to her or him. In this respect, a virtual collection, like the online version of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, is more useful than a traditional one, since visitors can direct their curiosity into the presence of the works they choose to see or care to know about (as some of my readers did, Googling their way to what I wrote about Valentine Vox or The Free Company, for instance).

And yet, a collection falls apart as a result of such selective viewings, becoming as fragmented as the interests of the diverse public to which it is being made available.  How to keep an online journal like this together—and keep it going?

Any smart museum is, to some degree, self-reflexive about the collection it houses. A truly smart museum, like the Museo Lázaro Galdiano, acknowledges its shortcomings rather than trumpeting its ostensible merits. Over the next few weeks, I will try new approaches to collecting my thoughts for subjection to the splintering vision of the public gaze. I am aware, for instance, that broadcastellan is missing a unifying narrative arch, mainly because I do not want to turn this journal into an intimate if public diary.

Some of the connections between what I label “unpopular culture” and our (or my) present everyday seem forced or arbitrary precisely because the personal link between what I experience and choose to discuss has been obscured (why am I watching this or that film; why am I listening to a specific radio play or reading a certain book just now?).

Rather than becoming more personal, I am going to make more of an effort to relate to others by providing a historic connection to the works I choose to discuss without turning my musings into history lessons.

Thoughts can be gathered anywhere; in fact, Madrid’s streets are a veritable gallery of thoughts—to which above lines from Don Quixote, found on the Calle de las Huertas, attest. Words and images are dirt cheap and trivial unless a thoughtful collector tries to render them precious and significant.  Yes, it was the arbitrariness and the flaunting of Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza’s wealth that made me reconsider the acts of collecting, exhibiting, and sharing my humble thoughts.

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