The Power of Art
If you’ve ever wondered about the kind of person who cries openly in museums, those scribbling notes, their heads tilting curiously to the left and then to right as though they are engaged in quiet conversation, those who in deference to a sculpture or light installation stands motionless long after everyone else had moved on, let me explain.
I’m of this ilk who believes in the transformative power of art. From Polaroid pictures to Breson prints, a child’s watercolor to a Kara Walker original, Arbus chairs to flea market finds, I believe art, in its many forms, has changed my life.
When I was a child, art classes were a requirement and for good reason. As the ever-important next generation in line, we learned about the dangers of dismissing the unconventional as irrelevant. We learned to respect other’s visions, as well as our own (even if they were spelled out in Cheerios), to look beyond the obvious, and to respect our creative intuition by getting out of our own way.
My parents also believed in the transformative power of art. When a schoolyard bully hurled racial epithets at my younger sister and me, my father took us to the museum where he introduced us to the works of Gordon Parks. Who better to teach us that there are “other kinds of families and individuals” than Parks? We were no better or worse simply because we looked different, a point underscored by our surroundings: a museum made beautiful by divergent techniques and opinions.
Later in life I continued to find solace and guidance while trawling through galleries and museums. Photographer Sally Mann’s images of mortality helped me face my grandmother’s death. My grief and sense of abandonment took shape and in doing so forced me to face what I refused to consider: there is a division between body and soul. My grandmother’s body gave out, but her spirit did not. It could not.
There are many ways to learn life’s greatest lessons, art just happens to be the most enjoyable. Even in its most subtle form, it is accessible, unifying, and, at times, confrontational.
Recently I went to a civil rights photography exhibit with my fiancé and it brought me to tears. Long after everyone else had moved on, I remained transfixed. Clearly, I approached the exhibit as one version of myself and walked away as another. I felt stronger, a little bit wiser. Seeing your fears, hopes, and dreams come to life in the works of strangers has that effect. This I believe.
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