One of my favourite things to do when I have free time is visit museums or art galleries. When I travel, I visit them pretty much everywhere I go, and there’s often a crowd. So why are so many people drawn to art?
I’ve always been impressed by the creativity of gifted artists and the unique perspectives these talented people are able to represent through their work with different mediums – drawing, painting, sculpture and others.
Great artists are actually able to create a wow effect, which forces you to stop, think, and wonder how the artist developed such a different idea or perspective. In addition, artists find special ways to make a statement on social issues or controversial topics.
The fact that art frequently challenges us is very healthy. Think of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, as an example of art that challenges, provokes and engages. It was considered very controversial when it was installed in the early 1980s. Its creator was Maya Lin, a 21-year-old art student at Yale University, and her design was chosen in a national competition that included 1,400 entries. To symbolize the impact of war, she chose to literally cut into the earth. She created a long black granite wall and a journey for the viewer from one end of the wall to the other – an intimate place to see the engraved names of the 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives. Some traditionalists wanted a more “heroic sculpture,” and some initially referred to the wall as an insulting “scar in the earth.” Yet, nearly 40 years later, the abstraction and striking symbolism of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Wall has actually made it one of Washington’s most visited and memorable sites.
Art not only challenges, it also inspires, by evoking a sense of extraordinary beauty. A good example of this would be Monet’s famous Water Lilies or many of the other striking works by the renowned French Impressionist painters.
Here at LCC, I am particularly impressed with the talent of so many emerging artists. Our gifted art teachers consistently bring out the best in our students. I love looking at the art on our walls in the Junior School and up on the third floor of the Assaly Arts Centre. In fact, sometimes I’m left speechless by what our students produce. That has also been the case in recent years when senior art students have held a special vernissage and exhibition in a professional art gallery in downtown Montreal.
I don’t just appreciate art, it also makes me feel better. So I wasn’t surprised to read recently that viewing art is actually good for you. Studies show that slowing down and viewing art is good for both our physical and mental health. It increases two chemicals in our bodies – cortisol and serotonin – hormones that also have a positive effect on us when we exercise. Viewing art can be effective in elevating those hormone levels and diminishing several diseases.
A new pilot project has just begun at the Musée des Beaux Arts here in Montreal, where doctors are prescribing museum visits to help diminish a wide variety of health challenges. These are the first legitimate medical prescriptions of museum visits.
So if and when you’re feeling a little anxious or stressed, sweating it out is not the only way to calm down. Viewing art is also effective personal therapy and helps you to relax and feel more balanced. I hope to see you soon at a local gallery! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster