I must have been eight or so when my father took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to give me a seminal lesson about art. We walked through the many galleries until we found ourselves standing in front of a painting the size of a piece of copy paper. Look at this, Sal, he said, marveling, as we peered into the jewel-like world painted in the 15th century. He called it “the Sassetta”, after the artist, although its name was Journey of the Magi,
We stood for some time looking at the geese sailing through the azure sky, pink buildings, wintry trees, a Magi’s polka dot shirt, a horses’ red bridles, birds, the odd trees, guide star and the wonderfully animated procession that seemed to be preoccupied with something. (Click here to zoom into the painting to see its wondrous detail for yourself…)
Then we walked back the way we came and left the Museum. He quietly explained that if you look at too many works, you can become too jaded to really take them in.
His favorite way to view art, which became my favorite way, was to look at one work, maybe two, REALLY look so that you got filled up with it and it would resonate inside you for hours. Which is what the Sassetta did that morning long ago.
There are works all over the city that I might stop to see when I am passing by. They have the curious feeling of being friends, like the bright red Calder sculpture on the corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue that I am especially fond of hanging out with.
My friend Chris goes to the Met to visit Seated Buddha Reaching Enlightenment…
Of course, “work of art” can mean many things, and doesn’t necessarily have to be analog, as the Metropolitan Museum’s offering of their zoomable digital archive of works shows. You can look closely at the Sassetta or Chris’ Buddha from anywhere with an internet connection.
Art can be visited via books:
And of course there is nature. Trees are among my favorite old friends to visit.
In these days of relentlessly marketed consumption, it is a helpful practice… to have one beautiful thing be plenty.