Art Museum Addict

Sarah Jane Hay ‘19

I can hear everything: the frustrated voice of a security guard reminding visitors to turn off their flash, the fast paced echoes of distracted children insistent on staying close to their teacher, the labored breathing of an elderly woman resting on a bench in the corner, the foreign chatter of a language I cannot yet understand, and then... nothing.  All of the white noise fades into the background, and I’m alone again.

I’ve always experienced life as looking outside a car window going 80 miles per hour. The harder I try to focus, the blurrier the image becomes, and, before I have time to make sense of what I am supposed to be seeing, it's over. Last summer, this changed when suddenly the blurred mess outside the car window slowed. I discovered a sort of stillness through art, but more specifically art museums. They gave me a means to organize my chaotic thoughts and appreciate one piece at time. When looking at a canvas, I can isolate emotion in a way I sometimes have difficulty doing with people. In almost a synesthetic way, I identify with color, line, and composition.

The day my Dad told me Grandpa died I didn’t cry. I was frustrated with myself for never shedding a single tear over the loss of someone so important to me. It wasn’t until two years later, standing in an old Spanish monastery in Madrid, looking up at the floor-to-ceiling 15th century Rubens-inspired murals while breathing in air—cool, wet, from a room so ancient it felt entombed— that I sensed a sudden dampness on my cheeks. I was finally crying for my Grandpa. I felt pain, frustration, and unsureness in its purest form. While admiring the evangelical baroque murals, memories of him came flooding back to me. I felt overwhelming relief that, to me, became transformative.

When an artist creates a piece, they preserve an emotion, an idea, a thought in time, and it’s my job as a viewer to pick up where they left off— making their message my own. Cristina Huarte’s collection, She likes to Burn, captivated me in an instant. The burned paper, smeared charcoal, and streaks of red paint portrayed how materialism consumes us— from this, Huarte’s art set my essence free. Robert Capa’s color film exhibition of war photography, made me feel a need to contribute myself to the world. His photos before and after periods of turmoil focus on humanity through a scope of epic destruction, forcing me to reflect on my own life. And the list goes on.

Each time I visit a gallery or a museum the first thing I do is take in my surroundings. I study the people. The set-up. How’s the room displayed? If the walls are painted white, I can determine how the art will stand out—blue, the curator is trying to tell me something before I even enter. Then, I take my time. I start at the beginning, never skipping a painting, photo, or sculpture. Each work deserves my attention, each work has a purpose, and I’m responsible for threading them into a story that resonates meaning.

So, as I float from piece to piece I hear nothing: not the frustrated security guard, not the frantic children, not the distressed elderly woman, not the foreign chatter. The chaos all around me is silenced. My head is clear, and the blurred mess is gone. My thoughts are focused on something in front of me. I’m alone again, but not really. There are people so meticulously detailed I blink to make sure they’re not real, faceless figures unified in motion, simplistic lines that define composition, and blobs of color that express the inexpressible. I couldn’t possibly be alone because art is all around me. It lives and breathes, screaming from the walls trying to tell me something. All I have to do is listen.