I had what I would term a profound experience at school today.
When leaving the building where I teach my 9 am class, I realized that it was sunny and relatively warm (mid- to upper-thirties), so I decided to take a walk to my university's art museum. I hadn't been in a while. Once there I found the exhibits to be interesting, but the other patrons not so much. They were clearly required to be there to fulfill a requirement for some undergraduate art class. Their comments on the artwork were either flippant or insipid.
"Your aesthetic reactions aren't more valid than theirs," I tried to tell myself. Then I began to muse upon art as individual experience vs. art as a communal experience. Even though I was ready to admit that my style of art-viewing was inferior, it didn't prevent me from avoiding the sections where the undergrads were clustered.
The entire exhibit was devoted to art which addressed the dichotomies of Heaven and Hell or virtue and vice. I had tried to get into a multimedia piece which, from behind the wall that partitioned it off from the rest of the museum, looked like rapidly flashing lights. But some undergrads were inside saying that you need to take drugs before viewing it, so I circled back around the museum to look at it once they were gone.
Eventually I did make it back. The piece was a series of images that are meant to represent Dante's Divine Comedy. The artist had painted over found or blank film, and the end result was a series of apparently random images splattered with intermingling colors. The film had four sections: two set in hell, one in purgatory, and one in heaven.
I wasn't sure how to react at first. I sat patiently enough through hell, but it wasn't until purgatory that my attention was grabbed. In some of the images, behind the color, there would be a door. It only occasionally flashed on the screen. I kept straining to see the door or find the door amongst the chaos and disorder, but it would only appear randomly.
"This is what purgatory feels like," I thought, "This is recreating the experience for me. I'm searching for meaning, but I'm trapped in this liminal zone where everything is beyond my control."
"What do you think of it?" a booming voice asked.
I looked up and a man was standing next to the low bench I was sitting on. He was tall, but not absurdly so, bordering on stocky, and in his mid to late thirties.
"Parts of it are compelling," I answered, "But it is a bit excessive."
The man proceeded to engage me in an intellectual conversation concerning the piece, which I had not expected from a stranger. I generally don't expect to be approached by strangers. He was obviously very knowledgeable about it, and I gathered that he worked there.
I shared with him my thoughts about the artwork recreating the experience of purgatory, and he said that despite its apparent inaccessibility (because of its experimental nature, I inferred) the piece is actually more accessible than some of the other pieces in the exhibit because it has relevance to people who don't come from a religious background. More things were said, but these stand out in my memory now.
Before our conversation could wind down I looked at my watch and said I had to get to a class. I didn't, but I wanted to preserve the feeling of that moment more than I wanted to tell the truth. It left such an impression on me because it was the sort of communal experience that I relish, but so rarely get to enjoy. It didn't feel like a real life encounter. I tried--and failed--to recreate it using colored pencils when I finally got to my office.
It was perfect because someone else saw in me a sympathetic nature or intellect and took the initiative to converse with me. And because it was an unexpected and unconventional encounter there was no awkwardness on my part. It left me in a good mood for a long time afterward--a bizarre, energized sort of mood.
When I tried to explain all this to my friend, she asked, "Did you get his number?" She profoundly missed the point. This encounter was significant because it was transient. It got me into a theoretical and sentimental state of mind, and only the former of those two is common for me. More than anything else, it was interesting, and I hope that my attempt to render it in prose have been more successful than my attempt to render it in my sketchbook.
Last edited by jvcc
on Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
ntw3001 wrote:you can't get raped if you always say yes