L’Art pour l’Art

I have seen a great deal of art this week, and it has been wonderful. Not all of it has been quite my style, but I’ve enjoyed it nonetheless–particularly relishing the fact that I’ve simply had the opportunity to see it. Certainly my ‘bourgeois’ upbringing taught me to value art and celebrate the creative impulse. While I can manage as a performing artist, my visual arts skills are practically nil. So I’ve very much enjoyed this trip even just for the paintings. Of course, there’s been much more beauty than just the paintings.

To back up a second, I’ve been in Amsterdam since Monday, leaving on Saturday, with a day trip to Antwerp on Tuesday. It’s reading week at Trinity and I didn’t do anything last term so I’m making up for it. This time, though, I’ll more than pay for it with all the work I’m not doing (cough research proposal cough). Anyway, I’ve had a really stellar time and I’ll try to convey at least some small measure of my time for your reading pleasure.

First, after I arrived Monday morning, I just explored the city. It was a gorgeous day–if cold–and I wanted to see the outside things while I could since the forecast called for lots of rain. Basically, I chased spires all day and it was lovely. I would see a spire poking over the rooftops and try and find it. Inevitably, I’d see another and search after than one next. And so on. That afternoon, I sat on a bench overlooking a canal, basked in the delicate wintry sunlight, and read my book. It was an incredible day.

Tuesday I was up early to get a bus to Antwerp. For those unfamiliar with that city, it is sort of a regional capital for the Flemish part of Belgium. At any rate, it’s a cool city and, fun fact, the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam. I had a lovely time just wandering around. Another fun fact, more than seventy percent of the world’s diamonds pass through Antwerp at some point. Lots of diamonds. But also chocolate and waffles. I had, in fact, a waffle drizzled in dark Belgian chocolate and it was–even chocolate notwithstanding–the best waffle I’ve ever had. And I’m normally a pancake man, but I’d give them up in a moment if waffles always tasted like that.

Yesterday was the first installment of museuming in the city. Starting with the Rijksmuseum which I had wanted to see for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. An incredible building housing an incredible collection. I can’t even really say any more than that. Then the van Gogh Museum. Also great art, but particularly interesting because it included a lot of biographical information and his letters and drawings. He was certainly a very particular person.

Today began at the Anne Frank House. Again, it’s difficult for me to say anything about it other than that it was quite a thing. I confess, I’ve never read her diary but now more than ever I feel the need to. Important things. Important things. Next, I visited the Amsterdam branch of the amazing Russian Hermitage Museum. Here, they have two collections: Spanish Masters and Dutch Masters. Also exquisite.

Art, man. Some of you may know this post’s title, perhaps more by its common English translation “art for art’s sake.” I don’t mean to make any sort of grand philosophical assertion, but I do think in a general sense the phrase captures many of my experiences this week. I’ve seen so much beauty– within museums and without– and it’s been truly a blessing. The architecture, the scenery, the food… Golly. And I love that art can have any purpose it wants. It can be practical, like architecture, or purely decorative. It can provoke, soothe, explain, or illuminate. Art, in all its forms, is powerful. It does so much for us as human beings.

This is by no means a treatise on beauty, so I’ll desist from continued discussions about it. But. Try this week to look with new eyes. Not to “see the beauty in everything” as I’m sure many of us have been told. But literally new eyes, as if every time is the first time you’ve seen everything. If you were just a consciousness floating in the blackness of space and suddenly were thrust into the constant happening of the world, what would you think of what you see? We’ve got loads of problems, to be sure, but isn’t this world full of beauty?

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