Have you ever been moved by a beautiful piece of music, transfixed by the creative genius of a painting or inspired by evocative imagery in a poem?
This month, I had the gift of a weekend’s immersion in art. On a Friday evening, I attended three of the six finalists’ performances in this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Bass Hall was filled with music, soaring to the heights of that magnificent space and settling into each set of ears in the packed house. The music was grand and the performances were masterful. I reveled in the melodic magic and marveled at the skill and showmanship of the young pianists.
I left the concert hall energized and rejuvenated by the power of these performances. Likewise, the following day’s matinee treated all of us to the collective genius of orchestra and three more pianists, who once again transformed the hall with soaring melody. It occurred to me that collective ears and imaginations were aroused by the masterful performance of these time-honored pieces, yet for each of us, the connection to the music was fresh and uniquely personal. I cherish this characteristic of art appreciation, in all its forms: Though there is often collective witnessing, each of us is ultimately nourished in our own, very personal way.
Between the two concerts on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, I visited the Kimbell Art Museum. Not only did I see its permanent collection, but also was treated to an outstanding sampling of masterworks loaned from the Phillips Collection. There were captivating offerings on every wall: nature scenes, portraits, whimsy and tragedy, the common and the sacred—a potpourri of artistic expression.
Attempting to conjure a metaphor for pure delight, I mused, “What might my 3 year old granddaughter choose?” Knowing her fondness for sweet treats, I came up with my title! For me, and I suspect many adults, the pleasure in experiencing various forms of art can verge on pure delight, as intimate as a bite of a delicious morsel.
In reflecting on the weekend’s impact on my mood and sense of well being, I realize that a crucial aspect of art appreciation that makes it so valuable is the necessity of stepping out of day-to-day routines in the process. The purposeful time-out required to experience art is an important element of self-care. It’s taking time to pause, to open mind, ears, eyes, and heart to the music, the words, and the creative visual imagery that nourish one’s soul. As W.B. Yeats put it, “ The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
The photograph accompanying this article is my most recently acquired piece of art. It’s a small blown glass sculpture by Jan Benda, a Czechoslovakian craftsman living in Canada. I purchased it while on vacation at the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, last summer. When I wandered into the small art-glass shop to browse, it attracted me instantly with its graceful shape and rich internal swirls of color. When I discovered that the artist had titled the piece, “Dancing Souls”, the deal was sealed. What a tantalizing conception to see the aquamarine and purple ribbons interacting as joyful souls! Just the thought of such exuberance makes me smile.
So, spending time with art is a gift we give ourselves. It can feed dreams and refill emotional reservoirs. It connects us with the imaginations and the human experience of the artists, while simultaneously stirring our minds and moving our hearts. We get a glimpse into the creative genius of another, and perhaps share a moment of magical connection, in our personal response to a song, a poem, a sculpture, a painting. As do millions before me, I have a personal and unique relationship to the intricate melodies of Mozart, the color-rich palette of Matisse, and the poetic phrasing of John Keats. I am predictably enriched by time spent with each.
There’s a precious moment in connecting with art where we can escape the mundane and dive head first into our own pools of childlike wonder. We will emerge rejuvenated, energized, calmed, refreshed. Together, art and I create an experience of heightened imagination, sometimes awe, that occurs in the moment—and perhaps never again in quite the same way. Certainly, Emily Dickinson would applaud such transformation. After all, she’s the one who proposed, “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”
Enjoy your sprinkles!
Stephen L. Hines, MD