Take The Time

Marc Chagall  'America Windows'

Marc Chagall ‘America Windows’

I finally saw Marc Chagall’s ‘America Window.’ It’s at the Art Institute of Chicago and has long been on my must-experience list. It’s a long list! Unlike most bucket lists, my list cannot be contained in a bucket and I have no illusion that I will experience everything on the list before I die. It’s not possible to experience everything on my list in a single lifetime. I keep my list to remind myself that my life is both finite and that this life holds more miracles than any single life-bucket can contain. Finite lifespan nests within the infinite awe.

The Window provided me with an extraordinary perspective flip. When first approaching it I thought, “How spare!” It was breathtaking in color but seemed narratively sparse, like a Mark Rothko instead of a Marc Chagall. And then I stepped closer and the story of the Window began to emerge. An entire world opened for me. The longer I looked the more I saw. The more I saw the more I wanted to look. It was as if I was at first hypnotized and then drawn into the world of the Window. When I finally decided to leave, I walked several paces away and turned back for one more look. The world that had at first seemed spare was now too full to comprehend. I was seeing beyond my thinking.

What a great metaphor for the process of stepping into presence! It’s a process of moving from the conceptual to an experience. Our thinking, our relationship with language, requires us to generalize and a generality is always an abstraction. It is made up. For instance, right now, looking out my window, I see many “trees” and, in truth, I’m not seeing them at all. I’m seeing the abstract concept “tree” that I attach to many, many unique forms. I’m seeing what I expect to see. If I take the time to go outside and touch, smell and feel them, I see that each “tree” is vastly different than all the others. No two forms are ever the same. They are vastly different than my expectation. It is not until we take the time to move beyond our words that we regain our capacity to see.

Chagall, like all great artists, knew this. He knew that people need help seeing and that seeing is vastly different than looking. Vital life, dare I say the rich meaning of life, is available when we learn to see beyond our abstractions. Vital life (the infinite) dances in front of us all of the time. It is the role of the artist to help us move beyond our expectation and engage with the dance. The Window reminded me that sometimes we need only take the time to open our eyes and see.

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