This Friday, I’m taking the creative writing club to the Norton Simon Museum of Art here in Southern California. If you’ve ever watched the Rose Parade, it’s the museum that all the floats drive past, and it’s one of the best collections around.
It’s not a large collection, but Norton Simon and those who took on acquisitions after he passed on have very good eyes for good work. The Norton Simon is one of those places I like to take students who are just starting to write poetry. I personally like confessional poetry, but after a while, good poets and writers need to look beyond themselves so they can understand their world in a new way. Ekphrasis is one way to do that.
Ekphrasis is the art of writing about art. I like to get my students out of their heads and into writing this kind of work. What I like to tell them is that the job of the painting, like the job of a story or a poem, is the work of two people, the artist and the viewer. It’s up to them to construct meaning out of what the artist has created. It’s a way of looking through a window into their own lives.
Plus, it’s fun to go to museums and think about art.
It’s one of those things that they can do for mindfulness. They can find themselves in the images and the art. They can understand themselves by what they notice, and they can lose themselves in the moment of connection.
My favorite time at the Norton Simon was wandering the halls as a world class cello player performed under the eyes of several Jesus paintings who all blessed him and us. It’s hard not to feel sophisticated when you’re doing something like that. And the music put me into a kind of trance state that I have been trying to write about since that day. I haven’t been able to capture it in a poem, so I thought I’d try a blog post.
Will we reach that level of meditation when we’re at the Norton Simon this week? Maybe not, but that’s all right. What I hope is that the students start to see themselves in and through the art. That’s what they’re there for. Anyway, it’s one reason. And what more could you want from a college experience?