Musings from a Museum

Steenwijk Christ Martha and Mary
Steenwijk Christ Martha and Mary

In his book, Windows of the Soul, Ken Gire talks of how the most ordinary circumstances and the most mundane experiences can become extraordinary if we are paying attention. I had such an experience last Saturday, when I visited one of our local art museums with my wife, two sons and grandson. Following are some random musings:

  • I have been to many of the finest museums in the world, and still find myself in awe of the fact that I really am looking at the original painting, or the real object, that was created by hands just like mine hundreds or even thousands of years ago. This time I was marveling at some of the masters from the Dutch Golden Age, including the master himself, Rembrandt van Rijn. What struck me in particular was their uncanny understanding of light; it's as if they were able to capture in time something so ethereal and transient (perhaps evasive is a better word) that it's like stardust. The reproduction above does next to nothing to convey the astounding depiction of light in van Steenwijk's Christ in the House of Martha and Mary. And hardly a brushstroke to be seen. One thing that also sets the Dutch Masters apart from other Renaissance and Baroque painters is their portrayal of ordinary scenes and people, shedding the obligation to paint Biblical scenes or portraits of monarchs and nobles. This is likely due to the Protestant Reformation, having firmly taken root in the Netherlands, which taught the sanctity of all aspects of life, not only what is deemed religious. (The flip side of this is that Protestant churches were stripped of countless priceless works of art under the austere interpretation of the Calvinists.)
  • I love to people watch at museums. Some snapshots that caught my eye: a young father and his barely-teenage son remarking on the art, the son sharing some of what he had learned in school about the techniques used here; a 40-ish man joining an elderly gentleman (easily 80 by my estimation) for a morning at the museum. There was an obvious bond of friendship between the two men, and it reminded me that souls need not know the limitations of age difference. I am fortunate enough to foster deep friendships between people much older and much younger than I, and believe we are only enriched by transgenerational relationships.
  • The innovative work of Camille Utterback was a source of wonder for all of us, including my almost-two-year-old grandson. Her use of interactive technology, combined with whimsical creativity, is not only entertaining but a reminder that we are constantly interacting with our surroundings.

I came away feeling a rich man, probably because I was awake enough to be paying attention -- which, I must confess, is not always the case.