All I could do was stare.
I studied this painting in college, and now, I was finally able to see it directly with my own eyes in all its detailed and vast glory, each tiny brush stroke gracing an old canvas 53 inches tall and 94 inches wide. The size alone is impressive. I felt what can only be described as ecstasy. Pure, unadulterated ecstasy pulsing through and taking over my entire being- body, heart, and soul.
I must have been there upwards of thirty or forty minutes, scanning every inch, every centimeter. I began standing, walking back and forth, leaning in as close as propriety would permit, trying to decode each drop. A painting is wildly different when viewed so upfront and personal that you can pick apart each individual application of the medium. I moved in close again and again, examining the detail; I backed away allowing the painting in its entirety to take hold of all my senses. Eventually I was so overcome that I needed to rest my legs for fear that they would fail me. I sat, taking in the color, the softness of one stroke slowly flowing across the surface as compared to one of more substance, short, almost violent in its quickness. I could physically feel within me the movement of the paint and the brush. I could feel the sharp edges of the red and clay colored rocks, sense the motion of gliding down one of the smoother declines, or feel the wind as if I were falling from one of the magnanimous and terrifying cliffs. I was not a part of this world at that moment; I had been elevated to a higher essence of being and an intoxication like no other.
I forgot how gratifying looking at a painting could be and for a moment it sent me into crisis, causing me to second guess my decision to enter the professional world of the Boy Scouts of America instead of pursuing harder or holding out for a career in the Art History field. But then I realized that the painting had simply done exactly what the painter set out to do: inspire. If I remember correctly this was the painter who had done works for the US Geological Survey, documenting awe-inspiring views of the still unfamiliar and vast American West, helping to establish protected lands such as Yellowstone National Park. He was part of the Hudson River School, landscape painters influenced by Romanticism. They were fascinated by the ruggedness and sublimity of unkempt landscapes, the relationship between man and nature, and the truly religious experience of it all. This is exactly what had washed over me.
So I sat and took it all in and thought about my place here. As long as I am doing something in this world to inspire as did these artists, I will be content. Whether I make my living in the art world or in non-profit or as a teacher or as a writer, if there is some part of my life that inspires others, I will feel the enchantment that this painting inspires in me. Every detail, every touch, every stroke, everything that makes me feel the life and world and energy pulsating around me.
It filled me so much that I even felt to a harsh degree the sting of pain as I left the room where it resided. I have never so much in my life felt such a physical, emotional, and spiritual thread binding me to an object. I wished that I could dive into it, enter its world completely, and glide along those majestic rocks. I wanted to stay forever in that state- true, pure, wondrous euphoria, full of meaning and blessedness. This is what it means to live. We forget so often the sensation of life, because we are too busy following the steps laid out for us, certain that concentrating on our tasks will bring us happiness, but no. We are not simply born and we do not simply die. That is not to live. We experience. We find something about our lives that truly inspires us. To feel with all your being and throw yourself into the arms of a divine and metaphysical experience, reminding you that you are here, that you are capable of feelings beyond your understanding- that is to live. To enjoy something that takes us away to another world if only for a moment- that is to live. To fill ourselves with such inspiration that we pass it on to others, as I am hopefully doing now, in whatever way we can- that is to live. I was not born to die and neither were you.
Don’t let the mundane and tasking things in life overwhelm you. Take in this masterpiece… and… Breathe, you are alive.