Wednesday, March 17, 2010


2 a : something that lends grace or beauty

In February, an exhibit opened at the Frist Center that I've been wanting to see called Heroes: Mortals & Myths in Ancient Greece. The timing couldn't have been better for our family. B's third grade class was in the process of completing a unit on Greek mythology and staging a play that acted out several key myths. At the same time, A & B were already captivated by Greek mythology from having recently read the Percy Jackson series. On one of our many snow days during the month of February, a kind friend offered to take our girls to see the exhibit. The timing didn't work out and I had been holding out hope that I would be well enough to go with them myself to see the exhibit. So I'm grateful that I was able to join them today - and I didn't even need a wheelchair to do it.

Art museums are some of my favorite places in the world. They quiet my soul and I never leave that I don't find myself thinking, "Why don't I do that more often?" Today was no exception, although I was reminded of how differently children (at least my children) experience art. K was most fascinated by how old these objects were - all were at least two thousand years old. So every time she brought me over to an object, she would ask me to tell her about it and she would remind me, "Say how old it is!" A and B went through the galleries even faster than their younger sister, trying to pick out scenes on amphoras that they'd heard about in The Iliad or The Odyssey and/or read about in a Percy Jackson book.

I tried, at one point, to insert a bit of reflection. In the third gallery, there was a bench. I needed a quick rest at this point anyway, so I asked A, B, K and a few of their friends to sit with me for a moment. I said, "Sit here for just a minute and look - from here - at the art in this room. Without looking at the descriptions or the stories depicted on the vases, which is your favorite piece and why?" Only one child actually sat. Another asked, "Does it have to be a piece in this room?" A third child offered her favorite and then they were off - pointing out this or that piece that was their favorite based on size (the largest or the tiniest being favorites of several girls).

Meanwhile, my mind was stuck on a vase one room back. One that was a bit different from most we'd seen. It had three handles instead of two - two on opposite sides, with the third at a right angle between them. I assume the two handles were used for filling the vase and the third used for pouring out the water. For some reason, seeing these three handles and envisioning their functionality changed the exhibit for me. These vases that we see behind glass were made to be used. They were made by people - artists - who lived in a world so different from mine. They lived in a world where daily existence was hard - they didn't buy bread at the store, they baked it. They didn't turn on a faucet for a glass of water, they went to a well. Yet they took time to create objects that weren't just functional, but beautiful. They ornamented objects created for daily use.

I've always liked this about Greek art - that functionality and beauty are intricately and intrinsically linked. And it made me wonder whether I take the time to ornament my own daily life. Do I take a bit of time in each day for grace and beauty? We have art in our house - photography, pottery, paintings, even a textile or two. But do I stop to enjoy these or are they just a part of the background?

I think this blog is part of my attempt to make a space in my life for ornamentation. I don't need to scritch scratch out my little words, but they do, for me, ornament and delineate my life. The words I write give me a way to make sense of my life and to stop for a moment and ponder the gift that an unknown Greek artist gave me today - from long ago and far away, a gift of beauty in my day.

Greek Volute Krater, ca. 525-500 BC, from The Walters Art Museum collection

1 comment:

Variations On A Theme said...

Oh! I'm so glad you asked that question and my girl was there. I have to admit that I don't get out of art what many people do. The exhibit was interesting, but it didn't blow me away, as art seldom does. Not sure why. But I love hearing your reflections and it makes me want to go back and look again, with eyes more open.