Choose to get it, or be moved anyway
Liza and I went to an art museum last weekend (the Renwick in DC).
I don’t know what I’d experienced in the past at art museums that made me feel this way, but whatever it was was weighing down on my excitement level.
The first thing we saw when we walked in was a gigantic chandelier that looked almost like it was glimmering. The different pieces of glass that composed the giant chandelier had been programmed to light up/down in such a way that the same patterns were never repeated. It’s the kind of thing you can’t pick up from watching it (unless you have infinite time), but just the knowledge that this thing had its own endless pattern was interesting enough. I guess it helps to read the plaques.
There was a train display, too. A big wooden box with peepholes and a miniature train station inside, like looking at an empty, abandoned microscopic world. And as you walked around the wooden box, there was a life-sized train environment too. With tunnels on either end that looked that they went on forever (although they didn’t, since the box fit inside of the room).
“Forced perspective,” the attendant told me. “Visual perception gets manipulated because you can’t actually go inside the tunnels.”
Kind of like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney – an endless night sky somehow, because you can’t leave the boat to climb up and check if it’s real.
One of my friends once told me, a long time ago, that knowing an artist’s motives didn’t enhance the experience for him. In the case of these two exhibits, it was the experience.
The last thing I saw before I left was a McDonald’s bag that had been sliced up in the middle. The bag was lying on its side. If you looked at the bag from the top, it looked like the middle had been eaten by bugs; but if you knelt down and looked inside the bag, there was a beautiful diorama of a tree. How many bags of fast food have I tossed without a second thought about the possibilities of rearranging the molecules?
There was a book In the book store that explained how to enjoy art. The rules seemed simple enough: if you’re moved by it, no one can take away your experience.
Even those pieces of art that are just a seemingly blank canvas still cause conversation, and so they’re important. Even if it causes anger, disgust, scorn, and hatred… an emotional reaction took place. You felt something you otherwise wouldn’t.
It’s like seeing something against the backdrop of your experiences and your own life stories. You can choose to get it, in the same way I chose to listen to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless 45 times to uncover the magic lying underneath all those walls of guitar sounds.
But even if you don’t choose to get it, art can still move you. That movie you walked out of, that graffiti you scoffed at, the way that accountant wore socks with sandals… maybe you didn’t choose to get it, but it moved you. And that’s powerful.