Meet Me in the Met

June 9, 2017

I was falling through an abyss of vivid color and emotional outpourings, and no one looked in my direction. I was wandering through the whitewashed rooms and the mismatched frames, and no one followed. I was lost in the Met, and no one could find me, provided they cared enough to look in the first place.

Only those who truly knew me would know of my whereabouts. They could search for hours through the thousands of rooms, through the gated tombs, through the galleries, through the clusters of busts and crumbling figures, and I would still be lost somewhere in time, hypnotized by a hidden detail.

I was there: standing before the bridge over a pond tessellated with lily pads, frozen, mesmerized. But there was something about this painting. From the parallel wall, an intimate five meters away, the bridge was smooth and the lily pads full and prominent. With every captivating heel-to-toe step toward the wall, it morphed into something entirely new. The stream lost its gurgle and crash as it rushed over the gleaming rocks. The songbirds and the crickets stopped beating their wings and calling out to their mates, and the frogs on the lilies choked down their deep-bellied croaks. But the wooden boards of the bridge, slick with summer moss, still creaked. Perhaps the heart of the painting never stopped beating, keeping the scene alive, or perhaps the slow shuffle of my heels rocked the hardwood floors of the museum, not the footbridge, and I wasn’t in Monet’s garden after all.

As I reached the ominous ankle-high rope barrier, I stared peripherally into the eyes of the heedful guard and swallowed my temptations to run my fingers along the ridges of the oily pigments. Pigments that had dried centuries ago, lacquered and slathered jovially from the tip of a weathered brush. A brush used with passion but never force, that had been pressed but never frayed, that was washed but still held the colored relics from old works in the base of the bristles. Bristles that carried the artist’s intent dutifully and injected the genius onto the canvas to amaze future generations. Generations that are unmoved, uninterested.

Did they know I was missing? Lost in art? Or did their blindness to the beauty of paint and rock and paper cloak me in invisibility?

In their eyes, art is just another lackluster line in the lesson plan, a boring subject, an irrelevant topic. They pace quickly through the gallery, lacking the desire to understand and appreciate the magnetism of the art. They do not pause to indulge and digest the discipline of the artist’s movements and the countless hours of translating imagination into masterpiece. They know not to touch but forget to experience the work instead. They have not journeyed along the path of comprehension and respect for the integrity of art, too stubborn to even begin when they have the ability to find any flat, lifeless image with a few keywords typed into a search engine.

But they are not the only culprits and under-appreciators; the society engineered by this wired-in generation disregards the immobile original works of previous ages.

While computer software and smartphone applications have made creation more accessible and achievable for anyone, their introduction into the art sphere have diluted the sense of extraordinary associated with true visionaries. Graced with the ability to share with the world, visual artists have an opportunity more than ever to promote and exhibit their work; however, art is not the same on a two-dimensional screen, and the expertise often gets lost in the sea of predictable pictures of friends, animals, and food. The presence of technology has rocked the hierarchy of masterpiece, and holding the coveted top spot is not talent, but trend.

In the hum of the capital-centered world, we do not herald classic visual arts as culturally meaningful, nor grant them the status of utmost perfection, preventing the immersion of raw emotion and vision and innovation that admirers experienced in the past. We complain about the size of the Mona Lisa, not its mathematical and aesthetic perfection. We dismiss artists as irrelevant, even discourage the occupation in favor of more “applicable” office jobs, and deplete them of their traditional celebrity. We defund art programs in schools and stack shelves with coloring books over sketchbooks, stressing conformity within the lines, not creation outside of the box. We annihilate the vision, the passion for art. Society kills the gift. Distraction kills the dream.

So while they obsessively seek activity and stifle moments of inspiration to share a picture, I’ll be drifting back in time when amazement was detached from a screen and rather penetrated through woven canvases and molded into clay and stone. I’ll continue pacing in silence, blocking out the sounds of other feet and sniffles, trying to hear the artist’s voice, the bird’s song, the cricket’s chirp, the worker’s sigh, the pot’s sizzle, and the lover’s kiss.

I’ll still be wandering through the labyrinth of beauty and brilliance. I’ll still be staring into something both dormant and rivetingly vivacious, trying to capture the flutters of my heart and the zipping thoughts in my brain. I’ll still feel ethereal in the face of Degas, meditative before Monet, divine in front of El Greco, and inspired in front of all. I’ll still be lost in the Met, but if you care enough, you’ll know where to find me.

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