Of all the things I have been called in life, art aficionado is nowhere on the list. Now if art is defined broadly to include beautiful things like a perfectly executed squeeze play, well that’s a different story, but the traditional definitions leave me out in the artless cold. I am not a hater. I am simply an art doofus.
Our recent two-week vacation in Madrid that included a weekend jaunt to Paris provided more opportunities for art appreciation than in the combined 47+ years of my life that preceded the trip. We visited the colossal Louvre as well as the Orsay in Paris. We toured three amazing art museums in Madrid, including the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen. We witnessed the jaw-dropping art and architecture involved in the cavernous 2800-rooms of the Royal Palace in the Spanish capital city and multiple cathedrals in Toledo, Madrid, and Paris. We marveled at wonders such as Plaza Mayor and the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte-Chapelle.
I am so full of artistic appreciation right now that I should not operate heavy machinery. But of all the things I witnessed during this unforgettable vacation, there is one moment that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
We were somewhere in the Louvre. Who knows where we were really—without the art involved in creating the exit signage I might still be wandering lost in the Louvre. But we were somewhere in the Louvre when I noticed that we were in a room with a gentleman and his daughter with Down’s Syndrome. They were wandering at about our pace through the maze of paintings.
I am so thankful that I happened to look back as I exited one room for another and noticed that the father was down on one knee to take a picture of his daughter in front of a massive and colorful painting created by someone whose name I am sure that I cannot pronounce. I did not know then nor do I now which uber-expensive painting the man’s daughter was standing in front of, but for the rest of my days I will remember precisely my view of the massive posed smile the daughter had on her face but more importantly the exuberant joy on the father’s face as he saw his beautiful girl through the camera lens in all of her glory. It was obvious that in that camera lens was the most enchanting and priceless picture that he had ever seen.
And that, my friends, was the most beautiful thing I witnessed in all of Europe.
As the father of two amazing daughters of my own, I have long appreciated that kind of art.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arc de triomphe, art, daughters, down's syndrome, eiffel tower, europe, fatherhood, louvre, love, madrid, museums, orsay, paintings, paris, photographs, plaza mayor, prado, reina sofia, royal palace, sainte-chapelle, thyssen, toledo
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am embarrassed to admit that I avoided art appreciation in college because it just sounded terrible. While we are all naturally drawn to beauty, some of us are raised to find that hard to admit or believe or even notice. The creation of beauty (as Emerson defined art) was not my native language, and it has taken me years to recognize that my reticence to embrace an appreciation of beauty is the real terrible.
So I am making up for lost time.
Last week my wife and I gorged ourselves on beauty with a trip through stunning Arizona. At one moment we were rocketing through the searing desert in our air-conditioned car in silent admiration of the towering cactuses (saguaros) standing proudly against the otherwise nothingness. At another we are winding our way to otherworldly Sedona where the colossal Red Rocks attract their spiritual disciples—and we were speechless in our reverence. And then we climbed to higher elevations where the ponderosa pines seemed to appear out of nowhere and made us wonder if we had been magically transported to Colorado, especially when we saw the summer snow high on the San Francisco Peaks. Oh and there was this little place called the Grand Canyon up there, too. Breathtaking is no hyperbole.
We were determined to watch the sunset at the Grand Canyon, and it was a good decision. We arrived about an hour early—the magic hour—and found a point just west of Mather Point to watch the sunlight play off the canyon walls and witness the beauty for which no human being can claim credit. Words and pictures all fail. The sandy browns and the sleepy blues and the flashy reds and oranges undulated across the vast expanse like a wave of exploding fireworks in extreme slow motion.
I would love to say that it was unforgettable, but I know myself too well to say such a thing. I still have the ability to dismiss the grand spectacle of nature and revert to seeing beauty merely in utilitarian terms. That is my particular training, and I am nothing if not a good student.
Utilitarian Me asks what good watching something like a plant or a tree or a big rock or a ravine or a sunset does for me. Utilitarian Me can be a pain in the butt and doesn’t always deserve a response. But I will give in this time and respond with a quote from Kafka: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
I feel younger already.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged appreciation, arizona, art, beauty, cactus, desert, emerson, grand canyon, mather point, ponderosa pines, red rocks, saguaro, sedona, sunset