Sometimes, even in a museum-rich city like New York, you have to head outside to find art elsewhere.
This past Saturday began with a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, and it ended with me slipping away from a largish band of blog-buddies to walk the streets of Manhattan alone. I suppose it must seem odd that I’d traveled all the way to New York to visit friends who I then promptly ditched, but I think those friends understand my sometimes solitary ways. I love museums, but I need to sample them in small doses. Sometimes the sheer stimulus of being around that much art, especially if I’m in the presence of energetic, articulate folks who have so much brilliant stuff to say about that art, is a bit overwhelming. So on Saturday, after a leisurely gallery-stroll and languid lunch, I was ready to slip the bonds of sociality and hit the streets, alone.
In case you haven’t figured as much, I love to walk city streets alone. Walking with dear friends is wonderful, but walking alone is something else entirely. It’s not as if I prefer walking alone to walking with friends; it’s just that I sometimes need to spend time by myself. When I’m with friends, I still look around, notice things, and take pictures, but sometimes the presence of another person is simply too distracting. If I’m focusing on a friend or group of friends, it’s easy to overlook what’s going on around me, and somehow those anonymous goings-on help me feel grounded. In an odd, paradoxical way, being alone in a group of strangers sometimes seems more comforting to me than walking with a group of people I know. When I’m with people I know, I’m always aware of the personal interactions between us, and with that comes the usual insecure angst that most folks left behind when they graduated high school: “Do these folks like me?” “Am I talking too little, or too much?” “Am I making a fool of myself, or am I coming across as an obnoxious know-it-all?”
When I walk by myself in a sea of strangers, I don’t have to consider myself at all. Nobody knows who I am, and no one cares: there’s absolutely no need to wonder how my behavior is affecting anyone else. When I walk by myself in a sea of strangers, I don’t have to worry about what to say, who to heed, or how to act. There’s no need to worry or wonder about the irresistible human tendency toward cozy cliques and covert couplings: alone, I needn’t insinuate myself into any group. When I walk by myself in a sea of strangers, I am free to act as an entire, unthinking Eye, simply observing the people, places, and things around me with no thought toward how a figment called “I” fits into the scene.
And so on Saturday, after I’d slipped the cultured bonds of both art and friendship, I walked some five miles along Manhattan streets, heading up to, through, then across Central Park, circling back to Sixth Avenue, and ending at Times Square. I had no definite destination, just the soothing rhythm of my own feet underfoot. As I walked, I took a few but not many photos, my focus being the purely physical sensation of walking unencumbered: first this foot, then the next. Losing myself to the moment, the motion of my own strides, and the mood of anonymous faces around me, I forgot everything I ever might have known about art, friendship, and the cozy cliques and covert couplings they each sometimes inspire. Losing myself to the moment, motion, and mood, I simply watched the city and its denizens transpire around me, the raw materials of awareness culminating in my midst.
That’s when I happened upon Art Elsewhere. Where but in New York could you flee a museum to find the ultimate painterly moment: a bride and her just-married husband loading wedding presents for their departure, the sumptuous folds of her dress matching the intricate wrinkles of a renovation-wrapped facade? Where but in New York could you watch such an intimate moment–a couple’s first cooperative endeavor as man and wife–without anyone paying the least attention to you, the sight of brides and their just-married grooms seeming so commonplace, everyone’s grown indifferent to the wonder of it all?
If Vermeer were here, he would have painted this girl with a wedding dress instead of a pearl earring; if Picasso were here, bride and groom would be rent into angle and plane. Instead, passersby simply passed, and only one anonymous blogger–an Eye, unthinking and entire–stopped to snap the scene. This, too, is an artful moment, catalogued in the museum of the mind.
Click here for a photoset from Saturday morning’s trip to MoMA, before I fled the scene to find art on the streets of Manhattan. Enjoy!