Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The temple of beauty

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours gazing at beautiful paintings. Landscapes and still lifes of flowers most draw me. (Portraits are usually a distant second.)

(Corot, Sisley, Claude, Pissarro...)

As I strolled through gallery after gallery, I entered that peaceful state of "museum mind," an absorbed, heightened and receptive state that feels related to "drawing mind."  

I let the colors, compositions and rhythms wash over me, feeding that place inside ever hungry for beauty. (I wonder why we don't have a name for that place? Is it our eyes that hunger for beauty, or our spirits? Wherever it comes from, it is a genuine need.)

As I was reading a placard, I heard a man ask one of the docents which was the most expensive painting in the museum. A question that seemed rather to miss the point, I thought. How does monetary value factor in to your enjoyment, I wonder? And what says more about Van Gogh's Sunflowers—that someone paid X million pounds to purchase it...or that it made you feel glad to be alive when you looked at it?

(Not that those things are mutually exclusive. Just an example of the weird dichotomy between monetary value and intrinsic value, and our culture's attempts to put a price on something that can't be quantified, that is more than simply a thing—like a landscape or an ocean or a fox.)

Sometimes you come upon a painting, and it feels like a surprise encounter, even if you already knew it was part of the collection. Even if you on purpose went to the museum to see that painting. Almost as if you're stalking through the woods, gazing all around and waiting for magic to happen, and then, there it is! Waiting for you—a wild, shy creature, pulsing with beauty and power. And you feel instant love fill you up, as if you're encountering your beloved after a long separation. 

Have you ever felt that?

This was that painting for me. 

Oh, how powerful it is. And poignant. Tenderness pours off it in waves, in the ecstatic, glowing colors, the abandoned humble objects, in what is being said. Maybe: I am gone, but I will come back. Or maybe: I won't be coming back, but this is what I left for you to remember me by. 

Van Gogh is the most personal of artists...his paint may as well be blood. I admit that my compassion for his hardships colors how I respond to the work itself...but why should anyone want to be objective about art? I don't know that I even believe it's possible, since the point of art is to evoke a response.

Philosophical musings aside, I felt cracked open by beauty, once again. If only one could embrace a painting in thanks...I sent love back to it, the sentient, living being that it is. 

P.S.: I loved the most expensive painting in the museum, too.


  1. These are lovely musings, Carmine. I think I'd love to visit an art museum with you.

    It reminds me of something I'd read once... when European explorers were questioning Native Americans about the cost of their land, the Native Americans in turn were at a loss. The idea that their land could be an object of trade was completely foreign to them. The interconnection of their land and their lives was inseparable in their minds.

    "...I felt cracked open by beauty, once again. If only one could embrace a painting in thanks...I sent love back to it, the sentient, living being that it is." This is beautiful! I love this, the poetry, the poignancy.

    I like to think that the space within us... the spark of consciousness that shares its experience with God, with the universe longs for beauty, for a reflection of itself.... Just a thought. :)

    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment! Much of what I've read about the Native American beliefs feels wise and right to me. It is a lovely idea that our longing for beauty is in part a longing to find a reflection of ourselves in the universe around us. Which makes me think of how sometimes we love ourselves as reflected in a person we love (or think we love, as the case may be)....


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