Reflections on Art and Life
A few months ago I went for a walk around the Lower Manhattan’s financial district. I was looking forward to arriving at my final destination – the trendy waterfront boardwalk, but because of the ongoing construction around the World Trade Center, I had to follow a detour of back streets, elevators, and stairs just to cross over a highway. I knew this route from my previous walks and dreaded its noise, dust, and overall uninspiring industrial, makeshift feel. The temporary bridge over the road was wrapped with steel wire, presumably to prevent would-be jumpers or throwers of large objects. It created a sense of coldness, ugliness, even imprisonment. The stairs to the passage proved to be a nuisance as well. Made of hard concrete with steal handrails, their risers seemed taller than usual, causing a slight shortness of breath in those who, like me, don’t favor a consistent cardio routine. But the beautiful waterfront was just a few minutes away, so I didn’t mind the temporary discomfort.
Suddenly something caught my eye to the side of the stairs. It was the building adjacent to them. I had a direct access to the windows of the first floor and then the second, as I ascended, what now seemed like, a scaffolding. This was interesting. I looked at the arches of the window openings, the cornices, the connecting plates ornate with reliefs of animals and mythical figures. The wall of the building was covered with dirt, dust, and mold, but at the same time exuded certain elegance and stateliness. So much attention to detail and a good old-world craftsmanship.
And then I realized that the ornamentation could only be witnessed from this temporary scaffolding. If I were to walk on the street level, and even raise my head to look toward the second story, I would have never seen it!
Being an artist, and a practical one at that, I began to think about the artisans who created the reliefs. Were they proud that their work was featured on a prominent building in New York City? Were they aware that the pedestrians beneath would never see their artwork? What about the architect who designed the building? Why did he choose to ornament the higher floors if no one could really benefit from the design? Was it frivolous, superfluous, wasteful?
I choose to believe that it was neither. I think that true artists create out of love and respect of art itself. They pursue excellence and perfection in every detail not merely to receive accolades of the audience, but to fulfill an inner calling. The architect added the intricate ornaments to the façade on upper floors because only in this way the building would be whole. It wouldn’t make any difference to the pedestrians, or the occupants, but it would make every difference to the legacy of the designer.
I think about how our contemporary society urges us to immediately display everything of ourselves for the inspection of public opinion, and how dangerous it is for myself and my colleagues in creative fields to always feel the pressure that we must perform, prove, dazzle, entertain, justify, and monetize. Yes, I am very aware that money must be earned, bread must be put on the table, subscribers must be alerted, and investors must be reassured. Yet it is wonderfully refreshing to stumble from time to time on a hidden, unassuming gem that gives meaning and inspiration to a narrow circle of friends, one person, or perhaps only ourselves.
©2011 Dosia McKay