Addicted to Beauty
Developing an early appreciation for art yields benefits that last a lifetime
“It might have something to do with the fact that when we were small, all the way through our teen years, my mother brought the six of us to The Art Institute of Chicago to walk through the galleries several times a year.
It was usually on a Sunday and the trip downtown was directed at a specific special exhibit, with any remaining time assigned to the classic standards we grew to appreciate — the 19th- and 20th-century artists and the Greek sculptures.
While my friends were going to amusement parks or local parks with their parents, or perhaps out to fast food restaurants or Denny’s for scrambled eggs, my five brothers and sisters and I were traipsing through the Impressionists galleries and talking with our mom about painters and sculptors as if they were our beloved aunts and uncles.
I cannot be more grateful.
Decades later, I find that just spending an hour or so in a gallery — anywhere — gazing at an exquisite work of art will do more to lower my blood pressure and soothe my mood than any prescription drug, midday nap or glass of wine ever could. Part of it is the appreciation of the mastery, precision and effort of the artist and part of it is the work itself. I can gaze, I can examine, I can get lost, temporarily fixated on a canvas, marveling at each brush stroke. It reminds me of what a single human being is capable of accomplishing. And I am humbled.
Over the years I did my best raising my three sons to instill in them a similar love of the arts, though I am not sure how successful I was. They tended to remember the shape of the french fries in the cafeteria over the shape of the painted hand in a Renaissance masterpiece.
I also made sure to visit an art museum in every town where we vacationed — from Los Angeles to New York. It is hard to tell from the state of their apartments if any of the subtlety of light painted on canvas resonated. It is hard for me to find the beauty in a pile of clothes on the floor.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it,” Confucius reminds us.
As Chicagoans held hostage by winter, summer offers the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the view — whether it is the exquisite vista of a blooming garden surrounded by a halo of chirping birds, the shallow waves of a lake, or even the way the sun surrenders to the evening sky when you sit on your porch.
I like to describe to myself the colors in a branch’s whisper and the blues of an afternoon sky. I can see in the slope of a green hill the beauty that an artist would strive to mimic. And I want to go and pay reverence to the art that tries so romantically and diligently to imitate life. This makes me happy.
How is it that just looking at a piece of art to appreciate the artist’s expression of creativity can elicit real emotion? Why is it that you can be in the presence of strangers in any museum in any country in the world and each person will nod or sigh with pleasure bearing witness to a work of art? Perhaps it is universal to look for beauty. Perhaps it is in our DNA.
Certainly there are some who will disagree with me. There are many who would rather spend the time watching sports or doing something active for someone else, not just passively taking
in the work of an artist perhaps centuries long gone. Assuredly there could be more productive uses of my time.
If I am absorbing the beauty in a creative endeavor, then I am not advancing myself, my family or my career, or helping another person. I could be cooking a meal for someone less fortunate, driving someone who can’t drive herself to an appointment, giving of my talents or my time to make the world a more civil place.
But I am not. I am still, passive and deliriously fulfilled. Yes, you could say I am selfish.
I take the moments and hours whenever I can to fall in love with the beauty that the world offers from those who have been nimble, talented and resourceful enough to create it. And I
will smile and thank my late mother for having the patience and good sense to do this for me — to show me that such artistic beauty exists and it is my privilege to honor it fully.