Journal Gen X: The Art of Inspiration
While in Nashville, Tenn., for a healthcare strategy and marketing conference this month, I stopped by the Frist Art Museum after a day of sessions. The first-floor space was in the middle of being transitioned from the Frida Kahlo exhibit to something else, so I was only able to view the second-floor space. They were exhibiting Monsters and Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The entire exhibit was educational as well as moving. I hadn’t pondered the link between war and the birth of surrealism before, but seeing these pieces in one place, along with an explanation of the origin of each work, gave me a new appreciation for this genre.
Two pieces at the Frist moved me to tears: Salvadore Dali’s Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, and Europe After the Rain II, by Max Ernst. They’re both large paintings, and their subject matter is heartbreaking. They both depict the devastation that war brings. Dali’s main subject is the disappearing face of one his close friends. There is so much to see in each of these paintings, that one visit isn’t enough to take in all that’s happening in each. Although they’re both on the melancholic side, I walked away from each inspired to continue creating, whether that be more of my own art, or more ideas, conversations, and collaborations. While in Nashville, I was also treated to nearly 24/7 live music. It was something I’ve never experienced, and I am grateful for the opportunity to witness it.
It’s happened to me before, this emotional response to art. I was also moved to tears when I came face-to-face with Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago, while visiting for a different conference. I spent about 10 minutes studying this piece before moving onto the other incredible works. I wasn’t prepared for it to be so large (it’s roughly 7’ x 10’ in size), and I felt like I’d already seen it, as it’s one of the most copied artworks in popular culture. But there is no substitute for seeing it in person.
You may notice a theme here. I love the opportunity to immerse myself in the arts of the area I’m visiting. And, art always inspires me.
This past spring, my husband and I visited to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This was not a conference visit, but this museum happens to be close to where I live. While there, I was transfixed by Il Santimbanco by Antonio Mancini. It’s the size of it (at over six feet in height), but also the pose and expression of the child and the collection of objects he stands upon, that are remarkable. I also spent a lot of time gazing at Liverpool from Wapping, by John Atkinson Grimshaw. I’m a fan of turn-of-the-century crime novels such as Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, and this painting feels like it could be the setting for one of those stories.
As much I enjoyed those paintings, it was my encounter with Edgar Degas’ Interior that moved me to tears. It was another painting that I had seen in prints and online. But just like the Seurat, there is a big difference between seeing a version of it and seeing the real thing, in person. It’s the curiosity that painting evokes that makes me love it. There is certainly tension in the room, but what kind of tension? What happened directly before this scene, and what will happen next?
A couple of weeks after the conference, my husband and I saw a live theater production at a local professional theater. The actors did a great job pulling us into their world and asking us to consider their perspectives about the story they were telling.
This is what art does for us. It forces us to experience emotions and reflect upon our deeply held beliefs. It allows strangers to commune for a brief time and live in a shared, other world. It confirms our humanity. For me, it reaffirms that my best self is still achievable. There is likely an art museum near you, or a live music or theater venue. I encourage you to give yourself up to someone else’s creative expression, and I hope you come away inspired.