Have you ever stood before a piece of art and been completely moved by it? Maybe it was years ago when you were a kid; maybe it was just last week.
I recently read one man’s account of seeing Michelangelo’s “David” for the first time.
“Standing in front of the David was, by far, the most powerful experience I had ever had with a work of art,” wrote Sam Anderson in the New York Times.
For one thing, he said, the 17-foot statue housed in Florence, Italy, was larger than he expected. He assumed David would be human height, not towering above the swarms of tourists.
The mere physical encounter made a lasting impression.
I know that feeling. Sometimes an encounter with art, or even a place, is more overwhelming — or underwhelming — than you expected.
For me, seeing the "Mona Lisa" in Paris was not the inspirational experience I had hoped it to be. The painting is much smaller than I had imagined. After making my way to the front of a large, hot, crowded room and bumping up against the hordes of tourists at the Louvre, I’m sorry to say, I was a bit let down.
Because of the crowd, I could stand in front of Leonardo DaVinci’s masterpiece for only a few moments, just enough to say, “Yep, that’s it.” I felt a bit like Clark Griswold at the Grand Canyon in the movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
But my stepfather, who saw the "Mona Lisa" at the same time, thought it was an incredible experience. He found the anticipation actually enhanced his appreciation of the portrait.
Just goes to show everyone experiences art differently.
On the other hand, it was one of Leonardo DaVinci’s “other” paintings, “The Last Supper” in Milan, which combined physical, emotional and spiritual elements for me.
The painting covers a wall in the dining hall of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. To preserve the late 15th-century painting, the temperature in the room is highly controlled. Only 25 people are allowed in the room every 15 minutes.
The painting’s biblical scene takes place moments after Jesus announces one of the 12 apostles will betray him.
Gazing at DaVinci's masterpiece, I was awed by the very real emotions portrayed by each of the apostles. They looked like anyone who has just received unbelievable news. Some are in shock, some in denial, some even irritated.
But my favorite is Philip who, with his hands touching his own chest, appears to be asking “Is it me? Am I the one who will betray you, Lord?” I might have reacted the same way.
I hadn’t expected to be so inspired when I saw the masterpiece in person, but I was.
When my mother viewed the Statue of Liberty for the first time, mere weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11, she was overcome with gratitude and patriotism.
“Our immigrant ancestors saw the statue in the harbor, and they knew they would be OK,” she said. “And there we were in 2001, just miles from the fallen twin towers, looking at the same statue. The World Trade Center was gone, but Lady Liberty was still standing.”
Incredible current events had impacted Mom’s experience, but other times, it’s the understanding of everyday life that makes art so powerful.
Norman Rockwell’s “Breaking Home Ties,” is one of my husband’s favorites. The painting shows a father and son, along with the family collie, waiting to flag down the train which will take the son off to college.
The boy looks ahead while his father, hunched and tired, looks in the opposite direction. The dog gently rests its head on the son’s knee. The anticipation of the son and the apprehension of the father — even the sadness of the faithful dog — are emotions familiar to most of us.
The “Saturday Evening Post” illustration perfectly tells the poignant story without a single word.
Like all favorite artwork, regardless of topic, medium or location, it has the power to move us deep inside.