Good question. Working in the art world for some years now, I am constantly driven to describe the expansive, life-affirming space surrounding that which we define as being “beautiful,” but I also hesitate for a moment knowing that words are seldom the domain of the heart. While I think we all have been moved by this mysterious quality, the task of explaining beauty to someone who may never have experienced it—now, stay with me here— is akin to summarizing a Tom Robbins novel: “It’s like pointing to a snowflake and expecting someone to grasp the concept of downhill skiing.”
Well, maybe not quite. But the point is that no matter how we struggle with descriptors, the essence of all great art and natural beauty is about the dialogue, the unique experience we bring to its various forms. Without the interaction—without being present to read the book, or to gaze at the painting, or to sit amidst a perfect sunset—an essential element is lost. We can’t just say that something is beautiful, period, end of story. There is such richness in our presence that art and the poetic qualities of nature merely remind us of who we are already; the places we have ventured to in our lives, the people we have loved, the stray cat that found its way to our doorstep—beauty conjures up everything that resides within us.
Beauty also comes to us when we are ready for it. I think of poetry I read as a teenager, the tender words of Whitman, and how they were just words for me at one time. With each trip around the sun, my journey has taken me deeper into a place of reverence for the natural world. Now, after having a child and hearing him express wonderment for things like clouds and dirt, and relocating to New Mexico where the parched mountain landscape reminds me of our human ability to endure the more jagged parts of life (and to do so gracefully), I can say that I finally get Whitman. I get him! Oh, the beauty of his words, reading Leaves of Grass again many years later:
(excerpted from “A Song of the Rolling Earth”)
A song of the rolling earth, and of the words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground
They are in the air, they are in you (…)
And so it goes for the art here at the Parks Gallery. Not everybody is expected to “get” Melissa Zink’s work, nor does everyone share the same experiences that make Jim Wagner’s paintings come to life—we clearly can’t define beauty in the same ways. But, when the connection is made, it is something beyond words: I can point to snowflakes all day long and still never convey to you the beauty that I find in witnessing someone connecting, really truly connecting, with a piece of art. I am so grateful.