The Art Vacuum

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Italy, and careers, and history, and writing, and a whole bunch of other things.  (Of course, the fact that the ninth grade class I’m observing is now studying the Renaissance may have something to do with thinking about Italy, but that’s beside the point…)  Being back in the United States for 4 1/2 months (has it really only been that long?), it’s been interesting to see what kinds of things remind me of Italy–high school video’s about Brunelleschi’s dome (I was sitting there thinking, “I sat right there!”), finally trying to bake a crostata in the United States (it turned out pretty well!), and agreeing to sit on a panel of recent study abroad returnees to field questions about study abroad experiences, crossing cultures, and culture shock.  All of these have been positive memories, if not combined with a little bit of wistful thinking.  At the same time, encountering situations where I share with people about Italy (such as the panel) has brought me back to realizing some of the cultural differences that I had just kind of forgotten about.  Hence, my realization of what I will now term “the art vacuum.”

I never thought that I would leave Italy with the new appreciation for art that I did.  I guess I didn’t realize that appreciation until only recently.  I still reach my capacity for museums exceedingly quickly–I can only take so long of standing there with my neck craned up, trying to find the devil in the clouds of a Giotto fresco (did anyone see that news article?).  But immersing myself in Renaissance art and learning to see the meaning and symbolism behind each of the figures and techniques definitely led me to a deeper understanding of role of art in society.  The artists and the patrons had something to say, and this something affected the innermost being of its viewers.  It allowed its viewers to experience catharsis through imagery (tip of the hat to my medieval drama professor).

And yet, being back in the States, falling back into the rhythm of writing paper after paper, taking exam after exam, planning lesson after lesson, getting grades back and evaluating, I’m realizing how much it seems that American culture has lost the essence of art and what makes something beautiful.  We’ve become so obsessed with perfection and production that we forget that sometimes, it’s the faults and imperfections that make something unique and valuable, and that really it is in that uniqueness, in that imperfection, in that creativity, that people say the most with their work.  Sometimes, we need to forget about the goal of success and efficiency and just create something with meaning, something that defines us.  Walking through a city, I don’t see much of this–I see skyscrapers that cram as many people inside as they can.  I see subways that transport people as cheaply and quickly as they can.  I see modern artists trying to achieve perfection with the perfect proportions.  But do those perfect proportions really represent beauty?  When was the last time we talked in a class about what made a thesis beautiful and meaningful, rather than just how to support it?

I think we’ve lost the beauty in life…and we need to regain it…

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