Art in a time of angst: The antidote of looking

The evidence that humans are hopelessly divided seems to be everywhere we look. Any sense of alienation we might have felt before this pivotal year has been amplified through a series of historic events that continue to transform our social, political, and physical landscape in significant ways. As you navigate public health protocols for physical distancing and turbulent political rhetoric stoking animosity, remember that the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) can be a resource for renewal for you. Permitting yourself a few moments to slowly and generously spend time with a work of art or two can help you reconnect with yourself, your values, your loved ones, and yes, even those you may not feel so connected to right now.

You can begin this practice by coming before an artwork—either virtually or in person—and asking, “What do I see now?” An unhurried quest to answer this question can literally bring us to our senses. We don’t simply indulge our eyes; we ripen our imagination. Lulled by the sun-warmed greens of springtime, we recall the scent of damp earth, early blooms, and the seasonal cycles that sway even the most modern of lives (Mary H. Teasdel, "Brighton," no date, University of Utah Collection, UMFAX.010). Despite nearly a hundred years’ separation, we sympathetically shiver with pedestrians facing another bone-chilling winter and share their hopes for a brighter season (Guy Carleton Wiggins, "Michigan Boulevard, Winter," 1924, bequest of Kay H. Blood, UMFA2001.16.3).

A diminutive figure among towering cave walls brings to mind not only the dampness of similar hikes, but moments when impossible challenges and knotty truths have risen before us (Albert Charles Tissandier, "Mammoth Cave­—The Grand Gallery," 1885, purchased with funds from Friends of the Art Museum, UMFA1978.289). Lonely twinned lights against a dimming sky point to our common need for shelter and, perhaps, intimate the multitude of often-invisible alliances that allow those of us fortunate enough to have such provisions to take them for granted (Willis A Adams, "A Moonlit Scene," 1909, gift of Todd, Joy, & Sam Sanders, UMFA1990.022.002).

This type of looking opens up a vast world where blue or white or green do not exist as single colors but as entire spectrums. “What do I see now?” returns us to the foundation of our own sensing. If applied with generosity, the question may help us discover, as well, overlooked unities when we have been told that harmony is hopeless. Indeed, artistic vision may be precisely the ingredient that’s needed when endeavoring to build what feels like an impossible bridge.

Find your oasis in the UMFA galleries, now open Wednesday through Friday afternoons, or enjoy art-inspired activities for all ages at umfa.utah.edu/museum-at-home. Join the Museum’s free virtual mindfulness class Thursdays at 1pm through December 10, or take five minutes now for a guided meditation on the theme of color in works from the UMFA collection.