I believe that art is the most powerful human force we have. Art has the power to change the future, enrich the present, and help us understand the past. It does this by making us look outside of ourselves. I like James Joyce definition of art when he said that the best art was that which “grabs the viewer and arrests them and turns their focus outward from themselves’.
I was first grabbed by the power of art when as a young teenager I went on a class trip to the Chicago Art Institute and saw my first real painting. I turn the corner into one of the museums galleries and stood in front of Edward Hopper’s ‘The Nighthawk’. This famous iconic painting is of a brightly lit diner at night. Several people are sitting at the counter and a waiter is cleaning up. I looked in through the window, voyeuristically watching this evening scene. The black darkness of the night and the intense yellow brightness of the diner wall mesmerized me. Who were these people in the painting? Was there a place like this? How was it possible that a painting could be so dark and mysterious and so bright and illuminating at the same time. For a time I lost all sense of being a young person in the big city of Chicago. I was for a brief while standing in the lonely night outside of that diner window.
That day art showed me something bigger than myself. Something eternal. I was grabbed as Joyce suggested. The power of art changed my psyche and continues to do so everyday that I take the time to look. The power of visual imagines shapes my ideas about myself, about other people and the world around me. Art can make you questioned and revere or simply stand in awe.
Whether I walk amongst the rust colored curved steel walls of Richard Serras monumental sculptures or stand before the floral bouquets of Bonnard or the steaming red images of Philip Guston, my focus is turned. I feel the awe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.