Surrounded By Art

So, I’ve been thinking…travel will do that, you know, inspire thinking. The idea pulled up a chair, kicked off its shoes, and settled in at Villa d’Este where I first encountered wall-to-wall-to-ceiling-to-floor art: busy frescoes on the walls and ceilings, mosaics on the floor.

The idea is that I want to be surrounded by art in my daily life. I tried to imagine living in that villa, with those colors and images ever present. I regretted that that kind—and maybe quantity—of art doesn’t really exist in the modern American world. It made me sad.

A carved flower on a ruin in the Forum in Rome.

Flower on a ruin at the Forum in Rome.

At the Uffizi, the notion of giant paintings joined the I-want-to-be-surrounded-by-art idea. I have friends who decorate their homes with art, but they’re rarely original works and almost never the size of most of the works in the museum. Not only do I want to be surrounded by art, but I would like some of that art to be original and gigantic.

That idea stayed with me for some time. The whole time we were in Italy, I guess; in fact, look, it’s still here. But it’s changed.

From Hadrian's Villa: Bricks, moss, olive trees, cypress trees, clouds, and sky.

From Hadrian’s Villa: Bricks, moss, olive trees, cypress trees, clouds, and sky.

First, it occurred to me that the art we were seeing was all architecture, landscaping, painting, sculpture, and mosaic. Other artistic mediums existed during ancient times, too: music, theater, stories, etc. But there were no movies. There was no graphic design. No picture books. All right, some illuminated manuscripts, but not so many of those.

I’m not going to define or argue about what, exactly, constitutes art. We can do that another day—and by “we” I mean “you” because I’m not planning to tackle that one. The point is, there weren’t as many art mediums or materials in ancient times as there are now. We can agree on that, right?

Second, there weren’t as many people making art. Anyone today can make art. I want to make art.

Third, while churches, emperors, and popes may have lived surrounded by art, and while we primarily visited places where art was abundant, the majority of people living at the time were not, in fact, surrounded by art. Art was the privilege of the wealthy.

That’s still somewhat true, I think, but today more art is available to the not-especially wealthy.

Interesting lines on a striped side of the Duomo of Orvieto.

Interesting lines on a striped side of the Duomo of Orvieto.

All these realizations make me see that today there’s more art to go around, and it’s in all sorts of new places, like magazines, the Internet, hospitals, malls, banks, catalogs, billboards, cereal boxes.

Think I’m pushing it? Maybe, but companies pay artists big bucks to design logos and ads. They’re meant to convey a message, attract attention, evoke a feeling, be pretty, and more.

Ruins and wildflowers at Hadrian's Villa.

Ruins and wildflowers at Hadrian’s Villa.

I’m really not comparing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus with Nike’s swoosh. That’s just silly.

However, I initially felt deprived because I don’t live in a house like the Villa d’Este or Hadrian’s Villa. I wanted to live surrounded by art. And I do. I have shelves and boxes of books, many with beautiful pictures as well as clever stories. I have season tickets to the Broadway series of shows at the Performing Arts Center in Anchorage. I can hear just about any kind of music on the Internet anytime I want. I can check out paintings and prints from the library to hang in my home for months at a time—really, I can! Every day, I encounter websites, magazines, and packaged products with thoughtfully designed layouts, logos, and images.

The idea that has taken up residence in my brain is no longer that I want to live surrounded by art but that I want to notice and appreciate the art that surrounds me.

P.S. While most of the pictures I’ve posted from Italy have been Mike’s, these are mine. They’re my attempt at artful shots.

Categories: Italy, Travel

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