29 December, 2012

looking at art

A few weeks ago I went to the Chicago Art Institute. I always feel rejuvenated after visiting an art museum. It pulls me out of my head and distracts me from all the mundane things I worry about unnecessarily on a daily basis. This trip seemed long over-do, and somehow reflecting on it now makes me realize how much this past month was recovering from the prior five.

I began by studying some photographs, comparing the differences between printing and developing methods, reading the name of each artist, title, and materials. Then I set out through the contemporary building and decided that I was not going to read anything. Instead I would just focus on the painting itself – I could only take in so many words and changing my focus constantly was becoming somewhat dizzying. Often though, I couldn’t help myself and I needed the curator’s enlightening descriptions. I made my way through a few connected rooms and, quite pleased with what I had seen, stepped back into the hallway. Suddenly overwhelmed by how much was housed in a single wing of this building, I considered calling it a day - until I thought of all the beautiful paintings that would be in the next room over, so many artists I love. I decided that I had to walk through a few more rooms, just to be in the presence of such beauty and wonder. I stood to look at a painting, but rather than study it I let the whole room flood over me, with such richness that it far surpassed any one masterpiece.

Somehow my few hours immersed in artwork mirrored my recent experiences as a third year medical student, at least in sentiment. I have many stories to tell, each of them great on their own, but all together they make up something greater. Something I don’t yet have the words for and maybe never will. But it is wonderful, this mixture of excitement and anxiety, sadness and relief, complete engagement and detachment. And there has been an overarching sense of being overwhelmed. Not in the way I felt overwhelmed by the massive amount I had to learn in anatomy, not a sense of something being unconquerable or time being too short, but such a flood of experience that I will need some time to pull myself up out of the water before I can reflect on it all.

In contrast to all that, my few days of Christmas vacation have been so beautifully simple. I’m back in Texas, and I think that adds to the feeling, both for its reminder of my youth as well as the basic kindness of strangers that goes hand in hand with southern hospitality. I’ve been relishing in walks through the neighborhood, blue skies, green leaves still hanging to trees, and lazy mornings with my family. I think it’s the perfect transition into the new semester, with a new confidence that I know what I want to do with my future, and a renewed connection with the idea of becoming not just a doctor but a healer.

I saw some art again today. This time it was the Menil Collection, a much more manageable, focused collection of art. I walked through the naturally lit rooms, surrounded by beauty, and felt like I was able to take it all in and process it to some degree. My last stop was the Rothko Chapel, and left with a profound feeling of peace.

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas and are filled with love and joy as we begin to look towards the new year.

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