Sunday, February 6, 2011

Art is the Business of Temporarily Hijacking Someone’s Soul

Last spring in Manhatten, for the first time in my life, I saw a painting that made me cry. All of these years that I have looked at different pieces of visual art, I have never truly been transported by something that I saw on a canvas. Particular songs do this for me repeatedly without fail. Movies and even the odd television commercial will get me bawling (as they so masterfully are intended to do) but never before has a piece of visual art drawn me to this emotional state.

I asked about the artist who was not there at the time. She was from Venezuela and lives in Baltimore now. I wish I could remember her name. Her paintings were huge, colourful, with a lot of texture and layers, shiny sparkles and fabrics inlaid. Hers are coincidentally paintings about music; pianos, cellos, guitars, all of the instruments that frequently take me to another dimension. In the brief moment that I took this painting in, my whole body felt enveloped by something familiar, warm and comforting. It was as though the painting had opened me up, turned me inside out and basked my body in light and love and wonder.

It sounds crazy I know. But I felt like this painter had a window into my soul and painted the sound of me, the colour of me, the smell of me, onto canvas. I once thought art was about witnessing what was inside an artist. Instead I think this artist gave me the opportunity to feel witnessed.

I learned that a painting, just like a song, can surround your vulnerable parts, your wildest expressions, your deepest wishes and house them in a safe and sturdy medium. And then frame it all with belonging, acceptance, validation, and forgiveness. I know I have stuffed this post with more flighty business than you’ve probably ever seen before, but I really can’t get this right without using these words.

Reading can also make us feel a part of something bigger. Writing can give us permission by finding words for something we know deep down but can’t quite find a way to express. There is great relief in reading words that make perfect sense. There is freedom in finding our true nature outside of ourselves.

But I can also say that it is slightly unnerving to be seen so darn clearly. Not because it isn’t pleasant. It just seems too much of a coincidence that someone else can see the world the same way I do. And what is more, why do successful artists touch such a vast number of people in the same way? Doesn’t this give us proof positive that we are all part of something collective and huge? Is art really just God’s work done by human hands? The middle-man between ourselves and a larger source?

So thank you to the artist who painted this picture that grazed the sidewalk of Manhatten’s Upper West Side Flea market! There are no words to express how grateful I am for the work that you do. I did not purchase this painting as it was priced in the thousands. But home with me, I took a feeling that I am far less alone in this vast universe. There is no way that someone from so far away could have come so close to describing my inner world if there wasn't something bigger at work, and we didn’t know each other already.

In the moment that this painting hijacked my soul temporarily and returned it to me brighter and more full than before, I felt the need to look over my shoulder as though I was being watched. But this is what I mean by feeling seen. And feeling blessed for having experienced it.

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