Have you ever been so moved by a painting or sculpture that you can’t take your eyes off of it or, upon leaving, can’t quit thinking about it? That happened, again, to me recently when I went to Bethel College to contemplate the works of Denise Brueggeman. Her images are in the top cabinet drawer of my mind as it often opens by itself to remind me of their beauty and cause even more contemplation. Time spent gazing upon her creations were good for my soul and stirred up wonderful memories. You see, it was in this same building and on this same campus that I began my discovery of the world of art with Denise when we were both students at the same time.
For Denise, she already had one degree and was returning to study art for another degree. However, for me, at 28-years-old, it was my first time in a college class since I didn’t go to college straight out of high school. I had three kids at home when I began college. We were both a bit of an anomaly at Bethel since almost all students were very young. I felt like the odd duck in all other classes except the art classes I took with Denise. In addition to being a terrific artist, she has a brilliant sense of humor.
I had never even considered going to college since I didn’t think I was smart enough to pass so I signed up for classes that I thought, surely, I can at least get a C in this one. As I chose my classes (nope, PE wasn’t on the list), I assumed “Intro to Art” would be one I could scrape by with a C. I had no idea for the change about to happen that would rock my world and change much of the trajectory of my life: art.
It was in that same round building I attended my first class with Bob Regier, the lead of the Art Department who is an incredible print maker. I felt so out of place in this room filled with 18-year-olds, so I was happy when Bob dimmed the lights and began the slide slow.
Whirrrr – click. Whirrrr – click. Whirrrr – click. The familiar sounds of the slide carousel filled the room as one image after another projected on a wall. I still don’t know what happened to me that day, but it was an epiphany about the power of an image to move me. I walked out of that class forever changed. I seriously would never see the world the same again. It was like I was given a new pair of eyes to see the world, eyes that continually, and deliberately, seek out the beautiful. In fact, I have learned that simply gazing upon something beautiful, deliberately and for an extended period of time, quietens my heart and energizes my soul.
I know, art is supposed to be a noun – person, place or thing – not a verb. However, I use it as a verb – a word that implies action – because it’s a bit quirky but it also reminds me that art is an action, not some static thing hanging on a wall or mounted on a pedestal. You see, the goal of every artist is to move you! No artist goes to all that training and work to have you look at their work and go, “meh,” or, “oh, that’s nice.”
It was also in that gallery all those years ago I learned that you must give yourself time to contemplate a work of art, rather than just walk by it. I will often go to an art gallery and only go to one section. I seldom walk around the entire gallery (unless it’s the MET in NYC) because it’s too overwhelming for me – too many images to see makes me lose focus on one or two.
Now, when I walk into a gallery like I did with Denise’s exhibit, I will look at all of the images, pausing a bit longer at those who capture me. Then, I return to that image and begin to art. What I mean by that, is that I sit, if I can, and gaze upon the work and let it speak to me. The longer I contemplate that work, the more I begin to feel the emotions stirring within me. This particular work, inserted below, of Denise’s creative mind, “The encouragement of yourself and others”, captured me from the beginning and, upon my return to it, began to enchant me. Memories of art classes with her flooded me with the warmth of the morning’s sun and the crispness of autumn’s air. The interaction of colors and texture, form and lines, hue and value all created a swirling dance of delight in me – her painting made me feel good!
These are just some of the reason I must art. Placing myself, deliberately, in front of a work of art to slowly contemplate its beauty does something inside of me that is inexplicable, but real.
Like that Intro to Art class I took decades ago in that same building, I walked out of Denise’s exhibit with a brighter hope for the future, a deeper peace in my soul and the reminder that beauty always surrounds us, but only those who seek it out will be transformed.