Discovering Art

Good art affects me like symphonies.  Art moves my spirit and evokes states of mind in like manner as good music stimulates my feelings.  Colours laid together to create an effect, shapes, background, objects.  When I gaze on good art, I am lifted into a transcendental world and sacred space of the mind, heart, and soul.  Art is made of sensual materials–paper, visual shapes, and colors–and yet its effect is inner, intangible, spiritual.

I finally brought the fine art print I spent a lot of my liquid monthly income on (more than twice my monthly rent) into my home.  It’s a massive limited-edition print that covers almost half the wall from the ground to the ceiling.  I came home from church today, and when I looked at the print, I realized that the service wasn’t over for the day.  This work, “Spring Fed” by Andrew Wyeth, is both a realistic painting and not realistic at all.  It’s not really a painting of anything.  It is a painting of a square cistern in the foreground with a square window behind it.  You can see the square cistern in the foreground and look at the square window behind it, and the square window panes of the window, then look through the window at some cattle and a hill with patches of snow.  Is it a painting of a cistern?  Of a window?  Of cattle and a hill?  I don’t know how to consider the painting as a whole.  It is a magical complexity that is not an image of anything.  Then there are the colors.  The painting is almost a monochromatic.  The cistern is dark brown, the hill is brownish green, the cattle are brown, the walls are grey-green-off-white.  The complexity of the multiple layers of imagery and the color combinations create a wonderful effect that no photograph could.

Artists know that their work will end up on a wall, and that people will look at it day-in-and-day-out.  And yet the monochromatic color choices render the painting something that is even room decoration, too, and can be looked at again and again without tiring the eye and mind.  I say this with no deprecation of the greatness of it’s artistry.  Unlike a piece of music, which one can’t listen to over and over again without getting sick of it.

I have always enjoyed visiting museums and viewing art.  I’ve never owned a consummate work of this quality–even though it is a limited-edition print and not the original.  I don’t know of a purchase I have been happier with.  The cost is of no consequence.  My living room is transformed by this work of art, as I am, and will continue to be.

Worship and the Limits of Reason

I have had few instances when music has really affected me in a worshipful way, and taken over my consciousness.   I don’t mean the times when I listen to Beethoven’s 9th, and I am moved to tears.  Or when I respectfully listen to Bach’s B-minor Mass, and am moved.  No.  Recently I have experienced Handel’s Messiah and choked back the tears through the whole concert, when I wasn’t smiling with happiness.  And just a few nights ago, I attended part of a worship service at a Sikh Gudwara and found the experience overwhelming.

By virtue of my membership in an interfaith organization, I am able to travel to different places of worship and learn about their religion and experience, sometimes, their rituals (and eat their food).  Upon entering the worship space of the Gudwara, we went to the front and did obeisance.  That meant I knelt down and bowed my forehead to the ground.  The power of that gesture was astounding.  I got right back up, but afterward felt I wanted to have remained bowed down longer.  Then I sat down on the floor, and listened to the trio playing Indian ragas.  We were invited to pray to whatever God we worshipped.  I started off with my customary thinking, but very shortly was overwhelmed by a feeling of forgiveness and religious ecstasy.  I drank in the repeated musical motifs of the ragas as if I were chanting.  And my mind emptied as my soul allowed the worshipful experience to happen in it.  I even had an inner vision of Christ on the cross, although my tradition celebrates the risen Christ.

My own faith is about as rationalistic as faith can get.  But my experience of the Gudwara and also other places like a Ukrainian Orthodox Church have suggested to me that rationalism can only go so far.  The power of good ritual can last even after the ritual is over.  I can still mentally go back to the Gudwara experience as its sublime remains in my consciousness, soul, and heart.  And I can remember my startled feelings when I stepped out of the Ukrainian Church, with all its icons, into the ordinary world.  How drab and lifeless everything looked.  My Protestant faith taught me that religion resides in the mind; and it taught me to be suspicious of external rituals.  But I don’t think it got it all right in that.  There is immense power in ritual.  And there are limits to reason.