Great works of art strike us – the word “stunning” gets thrown around a lot, because that’s often the feeling they evoke. Chances are it’s what prompted the artist to make that work in the first place: Sudden fascination, amazement, that catch in the chest, the “moment in and out of time,” something that makes you feel alive, something rather like – love. Artists fall in love with what they see, think, and feel.
Children often have it, that sense of wonder, before it’s dulled by pain, fear, anxiety, and the routine boredom of average modern life. Life seems to conspire to make it difficult to see with fresh eyes; art reminds us it’s never too late. Art says there are things more important than getting ahead of the neighbors or mindlessly accumulating more and more things. Art helps us shake the world’s dust from our clothes. We all have the capacity to live fuller lives, to live, as Henry David Thoreau said, “deliberately.” Art invites us, as viewers and as makers, to live deliberately and to share amazement with the world. The basis of art is making extraordinary experiences as real for others as they are for ourselves.
To be fully alive is to reinvent your world on a daily basis, even if only in small, seemingly trivial ways. Light illuminates a wine glass on a countertop; outside blue shadows nestle in snow. We tend to dismiss our own insights; learning to recognize their value is part of becoming an artist. It has to do with being present, living in creative openness to experience. As twentieth-century spiritual leader Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement …. to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.”
Art dares us to live a fuller life. It summons us to what Heschel called, “Awe … the encounter of the human mind with the universe.” Awe is what we feel when we open our eyes to the miracle of existence, when we suddenly no longer take for granted the vastness and beauty of the cosmos. With awe comes beauty that feeds the heart and nurtures the soul.
So, one of art’s jobs is to remind us that, as Heschel says, “what we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder.” At times such as those we’re living through today, perhaps we could all use a little more of that.