The other day I had a chance to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Even though most of the exhibits remain the same, I like to go at least once every year to refresh my experience and my memory. As a creative and art-conscious person, there’s something pilgrim-like about it. We travel to such centers of art in order to expand our vision and our senses once again. I was thinking something along these lines as I wandered the galleries.
I was particularly struck by how galleries remind us of the “reality” of certain types of art. It seems today that more and more art is coming to us through digital means. We pick and download songs through the internet. We stream films or television shows likewise. We can even look at famous paintings or photographs via our computer screens. Granted, real flesh-and-blood artists played real instruments in a studio and created those sounds. Real actors got dirt thrown on them or played out their scenes on sets or somewhere out in the world. But that sometimes gets lost in the magical digitalization through which most of this comes to us.
But at the MFA, I was in a repository of real, immediate, touchable art. I was in the Art of the Americas wing, looking at some of my favorite paintings by the early Americans, Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley. Leaning in close, I could see the brushstrokes, still visible after several hundred years. I noticed the cracks seaming the canvas, sometimes even enhancing it. I could “see” the history in a way that is sometimes hard to notice in other art. Each single painting was an objective bridge to some distant and often hard to grasp past. But it was a sign of the reality of that past, that some creative mind took paint to canvas and created one window into his world.
The same could be said for the Greek and Romans statues I saw in another gallery. The bust of Augustus I observed went back 2000 years, to the time of Christ. It probably stood as a mark of the empire in some distant Mediterranean outpost. It’s hard for me to put myself into life back then—we all only know our own world—but there it was before me, evidence of another world.
Such encounters are a good, healthy reminder that we are not the only brilliant, creative, thoughtful beings in the history of the world.
Chris currently teaches writing and literature to community college students in Massachusetts. He is the author of six books of poetry, and can probably be found reading a book, drinking chai, and wearing flannel. In 2018 he and his wife Jen co-founded The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, hanging out in coffee shops, and poking around used bookstores.