Thursday, September 8, 2011
New York Observations, Part I
I took my beloved wife to New York to help compensate for fifteen years of keeping my life from falling apart. Our honeymoon was somewhat lackluster (read --the highlight was a visit to the Ephrata Cloister --google it), and so I've tried to do somewhat better with key anniversaries. 10 was Chicago, 15 was NYC --and what a trip it was. The brief report is --it could not have been more perfect. I can't remember ever having a better time on vacation. It will take weeks to process it all.
Part I does not necessarily imply a Part II or III, though it might. Other posts of lessons learned from New York may include things like, "Don't trust Google Maps and 3G Coverage to get you close to your hotel with your luggage via subway" or "Brooke Shields is holding up pretty well at 46, even with the deathly Morticia Addams makeup," or "Can anyone really finish one of those Woody Allen's at the Carnegie Deli?" or "Wow, the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine is one big, wacky place..what's with the deer skulls?"
Part I, however, is this --Lessons Learned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What I know about art could be written on the back of a Monet postcard. If I were to opine about art, it would be insignficant and foolish opining, to be sure. I know what I like. I like the way Rembrandt used light (thus my office is full of Rembrandt). I am fond of Renoir, of John Singer Sargent and Henry O. Tanner. That's my postcard, but not my point.
I've been to a few art museums. I am very fond of the Chicago Institute of Art and its iconic masterpieces but the Met set itself apart in my book. It is not because of its massive size and collection, merely, though that is surely impressive. It is not because it houses Gilbert Stuart's masterful George Washington and other works of like notoriety or because it houses a bona fide Egyptian temple --all of which is very cool. Much of the Met is like other art museums I have visited --portraits hung on walls, statuary in great naturally-lit halls, and collections of various trinketry. One thing distinguished it in my mind, and that is art in context. Some of the Met is given over to rooms taken from homes, and transported and erected in the museum. You might walk through a seventeenth century American parlor, an eighteenth century Italian bedroom, or a twentieth-century Frank Lloyd-Wright living room. In those rooms you find art on the walls --the way much art was originally hung. The room itself was art; the furnishing was art, and the paintings on the walls were art. The paintings were part of the overall effect, even as they stood out from it, and were enhanced by it. You see paintings not disembodied from their natural context, but in their natural context, and it helps make sense of things --the era, the fashion, the subjects and the like.
There is much to be said for a painting on a blank wall in the museum --the way it focuses the mind on the subject at hand, and so on. Yet, seeing art in a context brings out a whole new meaning. A tree standing by itself is notable, but a lush forest full of color can overwhelm the senses.
I suppose many lessons could be drawn from this; one I choose to take away is this. Our lives happen in the midst of contexts. Though, like the paintings in those rooms there may be singular moments of great beauty, and evidence of the exquisite artistry that stands behind all our lives, much of life forms the beautiful context for those things. Life is not all art. Not every moment is interesting and compelling. The drapes and the furniture are not as compelling as the paintings, but they form the context that brings meaning to those paintings, and makes them make sense.
I think I sometimes expect that life ought to be more exciting --more paintings and less drapes and rugs. We can expect church life to be like that too --grand and bold strokes that mystically combine into something that draws the eye and arrests the attention, evidence of a master at work. Yet, there is masterful artistry in the turning of the wood for the furniture, in the sewing of the drapes, in the weaving of the rug. The mastery may not be as immediately interesting as the painting, but it is no less evidence of skill.
My moments of ennui and the dullness of routine are the master's work no less than the moment of my wedding, or the birth of my children, graduations, ordination and the like. Lord, help me to see that! There is much artistry in the backdrop of the masterworks of life.