Walking through the streets as a kid, my imagination used to run wild. Light posts were never just light posts, they were potential laser canon hiding places… the clump of trees in the park wasn’t just a clump of trees, it was an enchanted grove… columns and building features were, of course, remnants of long lost civilizations. Like I said, my childlike imagination ran wild in a very C.S. Lewis sort of a way.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. (I Cor 13:11)
Today I still see more in the buildings, parks and other features of daily life… No longer through a child’s imagination, nor through rose-colored glasses of adult escapism… Today I see through eyes of informed faith that excites everything. There is more moving behind our world than meets the eye. Take for example the DC metro. It’s bronze color scheme is an intentional nod from designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli to our city’s monuments, especially the equestrian statues that mark our [in]famous traffic circles. Behind these monuments we find not just biographies of individuals, but also monumental virtues: patriotism, self-sacrifice, honesty, fortitude. All of these virtues represent “a more perfect union” that exists in our minds and we hope will one day exist in our world… but for the moment that bronze tone keeps firing our imagination and our will to keep working for it.
A similar dynamic exists in Christian art. Classical icons always have a gold leaf background reminding the viewer of heaven: a world beyond for which we can strive. I was pleasantly surprised to find a similar dynamic in modern art at the Phillips Collection.
The gallery’s current exhibition, “Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities” beautifully explores pointillism and other forms of neo-impressionist art. Often, the backgrounds of these paintings are marked by arabesque patterns of foliage, clouds, water etc. The curators remark that the style has “a capacity to move ‘beyond the real’ and to ‘fix the dream of reality’… Canvasses maintained roots in reality, but infused this naturalist ground…to yield a kind of ultra-reality.” (More about the Phillips Collection in “Touring Tips”)
Walking through DC what do you see? If the plain appearance of stone, bronze, paint and glass isn’t satisfying, consider looking to the virtues, the histories, and the striving behind them. You may find a more beautiful sense of our home… and perhaps even a nobler self-conceit.