Start with wonder

Seen through water and glass, the stems of cut flowers have a presence like the trunks of trees to me. Just like that, paintings made of water and transparent pigments evoke the real as though it were transplanted from paradise.

This week I’m educating myself with a mini immersion in visual arts around NYC. Actually, this is how I’m killing time during my daughter’s summer dance full-day camp at the Navatman Arts Collective. We are learning. We are exhausted tonight…

Rodin’s Beside the Sea

Today’s wonders were the Alice Neel exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with the entirely overwhelming “The New Woman behind the Camera.” First, Neel’s portraits of family, friends, lovers and acquaintances seem to practically gouge pieces of light out of heaven, as though out of spite. The women photographers, by contrast, pulled full sunlight on the fabrics and machines and cups of coffee in their compositions. The curators chose a diverse group of early influencers in the art form, geographically and by subject/approach. Fashion, social movements, dance, still life, portraiture and journalism. I especially loved the photographs documenting unguarded moments, which I imagine these women alone could access. What we choose to gaze upon in the world speaks a language like incense to our own souls. And then if you’re an artist, to others’ souls.

Alice Neel’s portrait of her younger son

I like to gaze on transcendent paintings. So naturally, the third gallery I meandered through was the permanent collection of Islamic arts. On a beautiful bowl, an inscription in Persian reads “if the soup is good, what does it matter if the bowl is pretty.” This is why I don’t read bowls and just stick with books…

From a Persian poetry anthology

Beauty matters because of what it feeds in us. Because the work of renovating the world won’t be fueled by soup alone.

18th-century folio from a Ramayana series

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