The creation continues incessantly through the media of man. But man does not create… he discovers.
– Antonio Gaudi
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about art — and not only because I spend so much time watching Netflix while my wife studies. I think about it because mostly, I feel like I am consuming it in the background and am not sure how much I am actually absorbing. Right now, as I write this post, Friends is on in the background. Does it comfort me? Do I actually get the jokes? Does it help quell the sound of crickets at night? I don’t know, I just know I instinctively reach for it.
I care about actually making sure I am absorbing what I consume because art has occassionally, well, changed my life. It’s a trite observation, but I always really enjoy when people talk to me about some piece of history they have read, or some documentary they watched, or even a great piece of music that they listened to that changed their life.
For me, the first time I had one of these life-altering moments was on a trip to Florence. My wife and I had never been to Italy, and in getting there almost drove our car into Brunelleschi’s Duomo. Exhausted, excited, and with a too-full itinerary, we headed around town. One of our first stops was the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. Even though I really have never had any connection to fine art, I specifically remember that as soon as I entered the main hallway that housed the giant sculpture, my heart stopped. It felt like I was cresting the top of a roller coaster ride. Honestly, it caught me by surprise.
And on that same trip, it happened for my wife too. We drove into Rome the following week, having had a long trip up and down the coast of Italy. It was great, but exhausting, and to top it off the rental car somehow had a lot of damage for which EuroAvis was going to make us foot the bill. After we crashed at the hotel for an hour, we went to see La Traviata at the Roman Opera House, a show we had bought tickets for long in advance. I expected to look over and see Kelsey nodding off. Instead, as the curtain ascended and the crystal staircase levitated onto the stage — replete with a singing Prima Donna — I looked over to see Kelsey crying. It was the most silent, sweet cry I’ve ever seen.
After returning from Italy, I realized there were things in life that should have had no differing impact on me than a large statue in the Boston Commons or a Broadway musical, but somehow struck a deep deep nerve. The reason I started off this piece with Gaudi’s quote about returning to the origin and my habituation to Friends is that I think we often turn to music, fine arts, movies, etc. that bring us comfort and relieve stress. I know I do. In fact, there are several psychological studies that link prenatal heartbeat tempo to human musicality. Maybe we seek music that makes us feel like we’re in the womb again! Weird.
But instead, I really want to find the one or two pieces of art that will just connect with me on a “deep, cellular level”. If you have an experience or two that did it for you, please let me know. Otherwise, I will try to focus on quality over quantity. I think these experiences are the kinds of things that lead us to avoid the instinct to self-soothe, and help us see the world in a broader, deeper light.
 The words of Dax Shepard. I’m obsessed with his new podcast, The Armchair Expert.