This is a longer essay I wrote a few years ago, which I am posting in installments
Part I The Magic Kingdom I–The Varieties of Magic
The secret life within paintings brought me back to life when I was depressed that so little writing got done in the maelstrom of life with my exuberant children who, with their toys and friends, daily whirled through the house, disorder in their wake, and considered bedtime a signal for the party to begin. Whenever we had frequent flier miles or my husband an invitation to speak at conferences near them, we visited great museums. In those magic kingdoms–cool shadowy galleries full of pure, concentrated loveliness: the Louvre, Prado,
, Rijksmuseum, I felt most alive and peaceful, the brightness and beauty subtly feeding my soul which I could feel spring back to life like the indomitable trodden Thomasinni crocus in our lawn. Uffizi, Vatican
Each exhibition, a bottle from an ancient shore, bore a scrolled message: comfort or hope, inspiration or joy. The Monet retrospective at the Art Institute at Chicago: the romance of the artist, persisting, developing his craft–over seventy working years–from the undistinguished paintings of his twenties to these rooms full of the colors of magic, white and silver light, bright greens and blues, lilies in shimmering water, and, everywhere, the quiet glory of flowers. Miro painted the gay, faux naif paintings in the retrospective at the Met until he died at 90, still fresh and green, still bearing fruit. Art as a staff, adding happiness and excitement to life despite its tumults, and helping you forget them. The startling, eccentric sculptures in alabaster or veined marble in the Brancusi retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art created right into old age by a man who joyfully woke at 5 a.m. to start creating reminded me of the pleasure and great good fortune it is to make beautiful things. And the paintings in the rare Vermeer retrospective at the National Gallery breathed peace, the deep peace possible as one goes about the domestic chores that harassed me .
In intense, blissful concentration at those galleries, I shed myself, becoming “only an eye” (as Cezanne disparagingly said of Monet) and shed time, losing track of it, as when I read, write, hike, garden, pray, study scripture, walk by the sea; (if it helps me lose track of time, it’s probably worth doing!) I felt again the joy of beauty; I longed to get back home and get writing.
My older daughter, Zoe, who, from infancy, ensconced in a backpack, stared at art over her father’s shoulder, responded to it early. She startled us by laughing and clapping at bright paintings when she was seven months old, and reaching out, with delight, to sculpture, especially of children, as a toddler (and has since won several art prizes!) Every time my youngest daughter Irene entered an art gallery, however, she howled. Those intense vacations amid the museums, romanesque monasteries, Gothic spires and ancient gardens of
France, Italy, Spain, and , when at the work of man’s hands I sung for joy were endangered. The force of childish discontent drove us into another world for refreshment: the work of His hands. Holland
And the natural world–with its starbursts of serendipity–is where I increasingly found magic: wonder, awe, astonishment and sheer beauty. We walked one hot summer day on
Jekyll Island off the coast, hunting for sea turtles, watching pelicans migrate, when suddenly–a splash, a flipper–a dolphin arced out of the ocean. A love-gift! For several enchanted minutes, we watched the shoal pass, intermittently hurling themselves into the air in wild animal joy. Georgia
As I drive to the beach, watching the sky slowly flush pink and peach, and then walk there amid the immensity of the sky, the immensity of the sea, and its ceaseless murmur, I sense this world is indeed God-veined, and throbs with the glory of Him “whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean, and the living air, and the blue sky” and the hills alive with invisible horses and chariots of fire.