Last week, we slowly strolled through two brilliant exhibits at The Met in New York: Michelangelo and David Hockney. We were amused that they were exhibited in adjoining galleries, the soft red chalk drawings of stately Renaissance buildings and powerfully muscular bodies, and the bright blue-green paintings of swimming pools and country lanes. They couldn’t be more different, although each artist is dedicated to representing the human figure and architectural spaces of his time and place.
The thing that struck us, in addition to the marvelous sketches and paintings, were the crowds, children as well as elderly gents and ladies, students, too, we imagined, with notebooks, gently moving along, reading labels, whispering with companions, giving way to other viewers, respectful, absorbed, thoughtful, not as interesting as the pieces on walls and in cases but interesting, too, taking time, looking closely. Why, we wondered, give up so much on a lovely Sunday afternoon? The answer is obvious, we suppose, but still worth thinking about. They want to be informed, renewed, perhaps even inspired—art is fundamental to helping us make sense of ourselves and our societies, and giving us the intellectual and imaginative power to build a future.
Here in the White River Valley, and beyond, we are extremely lucky to have an art center on Main Street in Rochester and Vergennes, not museums, no, but little sisters and brothers of museums. BigTown Gallery is “just down the street” or if you live a bit north or south or east or west, “just over the mountain” or “up the valley.” Unlike most museums in the U.S., gallery viewing is free—visit for five minutes or an hour, take in the show (right now, see Warren, Vermont, artist Nancy Taplin in Rochester, and the unique “Homage to Andre Breton” in Vergennes), and lose yourself in an artist’s rendering, an artist’s vision.
We exasperate one of our friends, who can’t understand why we stand so long in front of a Michelangelo sketch or Hockney painting. He should only know: we’d like not just to stand there but also get out our own notebooks, perhaps copy or at least write a few words about what we see. Would he think we’re a little loopy if he knew how quietly pleased we are when we leave the gallery, even when we’ve seen disturbing works? We say that he should recognize, as Sarah Ruhl reminds us in a recent editorial in The New York Times, the grace that art brings to our lives, whether its visual or performing art. Art expands our minds, delights our hearts, lets us see the world in new ways.
And BigTown brings art to Main Street. Stop in. You’ll be surprised how contemplating a painting or a sculpture or an African mask jostles the brain and lifts the spirits. We desperately need what is in BigTown, and what is on the stage and in the hall across the country and on so many pages, the abundant opportunities and pleasures. Take in as many as you can, plays, concerts, readings, lectures, films. Doing so is all the more important now—the arts always matter, but especially when so many of us, in different, sometimes diametrically opposed “camps,” have questions and uncertainties.