The invitation to personal adventures will be found in most fine museums, waiting patiently for each of us, waiting within individual works of painting and sculpture that approach the sublime and invite us to partake and participate in their beauty and meaning. But these we must discover all by ourselves. Once in the general category of art that beckons you, there are no routes, no rules, and no rituals to guide you. This is a personal quest with no pre-determined direction or outcome. You are the Way, and only you can follow yourself.
Some specifics: Go alone. Don’t put on headphones. Don’t read signs or placards. Don’t prejudge, preconceive, or censor your reactions. Do let yourself “Go.” These private moments are a time to really trust yourself. This is an exploration for pleasure, self discovery, and self celebration.
When entering any room, simply scan the art without pushing yourself. Let the art speak to you. There are no rights or wrongs in this adventure; open your mind to anything and everything. When an artwork draws your attention, whether it be subject matter or simply an arrangement of colors and shapes, stand or sit quietly before it and think or feel whatever — free associating — comes to mind. . . or not. Feeling nothing in particular is okay, too, especially if this is your first time visiting a museum in this way; your quiet attention to something that calls you is a perfectly fine response. On the other hand, if you feel like laughing, do it. If you feel like weeping, do it. There can be many different levels of response intensity within the broad spectrum of art experiences all the way from breathlessness, a pounding heart, and emotional rapture to a calm and gentle inner hum. The more fundamental and complete your value identification with the theme of any painting or sculpture, the more profound the experience.
Be prepared for negative experiences as well as positive ones, knowing that if you feel moved to joy or anger by a work of art, one or more of your values is being confirmed or assaulted. If you feel true outrage, it is because the work offends your most fundamental core value system, your overall world view. The stronger you hold your values, the more passionate your responses will be one way or the other as those values are aesthetically stimulated. Be aware, too, that your own style and psychological habits will determine your responses to a great degree. A couple of examples: Let’s say two people are regarding the same seascape, each of them drawn initially to the work because of its subtle palette of muted colors and the dramatic, expressionistic brushstrokes. Upon closer inspection, however, it is determined that the muted colors are actually a heavy mist nearly obscuring a lighthouse in the far distance. One person may now thrill at the mysteries inherent in the work — what else could be hidden from sight that would interest or excite me? The other may feel unsettled and annoyed for lack of being able to see clearly through the mist — I can’t see the lighthouse! Maybe a ship can’t see it either; this scene is full of impending danger. Or take a sculpture of Icarus fallen: One person may weep at the tragedy of the fall and another feel uplifted at the audacity of the flight.
Note the art causing negative reactions only to the extent that you may wish to revisit them on another day in order to (intellectually) unravel their effect on you. For now, pay attention only to art that ignites unusually positive connections, that pleasures you to the highest degree. If you feel you are soaring with energy, or standing in blissful awe, or inspired and empowered, you are experiencing a moment of connection and identification with your own deepest self; you are looking at yourself through the art and loving all that you see, without and within.
Spend a couple of hours in this manner. Then have lunch or a cup of tea by yourself in the museum’s restaurant. Let your mind wander to the art or any other subject; it doesn’t matter. After your break, revisit only the art that caused you the most pleasure earlier. Let it work on you again and notice if you are now experiencing anything different or of a different intensity than before. Since you haven’t read any artists’ names or titles of the works, give each work that has moved you a title summing up its theme and why it is has touched you. Don’t take any notes; let all this just “happen.”
Because we live in a high tech, instant-everything world, too few of us take time to pause for thoughtful reflection, to replenish our own interior world of values by artistic adventures that bring those values to vibrant life on canvas or in marble and bronze, which is so enriching an experience. Yet we must take the time if we wish to live fully. Take your own art adventure soon. Enjoy!
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation (www.art-21.org). She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "Adamas." Her latest book is "Adamas." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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