The Metropolitan Museum of Art is majestic. It is one of the most famous and foot-trafficked museums in the world, and it commands a position of respect among art connoisseurs, scholars, visitors from around the globe, and the New Yorkers who pop in every day (and who might just be the hardest to please of all those!) The Met is a place that can be many different things to each individual who strides up its steps, dashes through its doors, and lingers in its halls. Some come because it is an encyclopedic collection of art history, and they thirst for knowledge. Others come to take in the beauty of the works within. As for me? My Met is a place of reflection.
I’ve always loved art. Several members of my family have more than an amateur interest in art, and my parents made sure that my brother and I would value it by filling our home with objects of visual art. They would take us along to galleries during vacations on Cape Cod and in Maine, and march us through museums in Europe. When I was very young, good behavior on those gallery trips was rewarded with ice cream (in Rome, the tactics were the same, except that the treat was gelato). Somewhere along the way, it was as if a spark ignited in my mind, and instead of being taken to museums and galleries, I was getting to go. It was a privilege.
Growing up in the orbit of New York City, the Met was the marquee museum. I cannot say that the Met is my favorite museum of all those I’ve visited, because I cannot say that of any museum. I love the Frick Collection for its intimacy and the fact that my artistic taste aligns so closely with that of its founders and curators. For a historian intrigued by people who collect, the Barnes in Philadelphia is an overflowing fountain. Seeing Starry Night at the Musee d’Orsay or Wivenhoe Park at the National Gallery in London are magical experiences. But what I can say about the Met is that somewhere in its vast environs, there is a place for each individual who passes through to come and reflect. No matter how many eyes have lain on any given work, if you choose to make it your work, your place to come and look and listen, it becomes a part of you, and you a part of it.
As I wander the halls of the Met as a young adult, all sorts of memories come to mind of childhood and the first time I saw each work that I love. I walk quietly upstairs and into the galleries of nineteenth-century European paintings, and lose myself in the works by Monet, Sisley, and Cezanne. And I remember that no matter how difficult life has seemed, taking a step back, really looking at a painting, drinking in the details and willing myself to wholly engage in examination – that’s what has brought me clarity and perspective.
I’ve said that running outdoors is what allows me to mentally detach, and that is true. But before I started running, art was the only thing that brought me such peace. Now, I am blessed to draw on both sources of comfort. There is nothing quite like being out in the fresh air, the only sounds coming from nature and the pounding of my feet on the trail. But the feeling of stillness that washes over me when I am alone in the Horowitz Galleries in the American Wing, standing before my favorite Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent, is divine in its own right.
I am fortunate to have this place to come where I can take stock of my life and reflect on what it has brought me thus far. I am even luckier to be part of the Apollo Circle, a group of young members of the museum treated to special curatorial talks and social events after-hours, because it has brought me not only knowledge but the ability to stand in the Petrie Court and gaze upon the stained glass and lampposts with few other souls around to break the silence. But the Met is open to all who wish to enter, and though nothing can replace the experience of visiting in person, it has become even more accessible online. I only hope that more people gain the opportunity to experience what I have.
To those who think that art is nice, but not really a priority, or think it’s frivolous to cherish and protect when there are so many problems in this world, I would say that art is a part of our human civilization that makes it worth preserving. We are all put on this earth for a reason, and who is to say that the creation of beauty is not that reason? Art is at the pinnacle of what the human race has been able to accomplish, just like technology and math and medicine. Ignore it, and we lose a part of our history and our selves. Embrace and admire it, and we may just find the answers we are looking for.
This is my Thinking out Loud Thursday with Running With Spoons. What do you think about the place of art in our society? Do you have a favorite work of art or museum?
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