“What art offers is a space – a certain breathing room for the spirit
– John Updike
As an art history major, I love thinking about how art really is everywhere – we’re surrounded by it, even in the most unassuming ways. The sun glinting off the glass buildings as you walk along King Street, the graffiti and unique buildings of Kensington market, even something as simple as the way the snow glitters early in the morning as the city yawns awake. I love looking for the art around me in my everyday life.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend “Doc and Talk,” a new seminar that the Multi-Faith Center is holding this semester. The session I attended focused on a discussion of the link between art and the environment around us, specifically the way art and the developing issue of climate change are connected.
There are numerous examples of artwork that speak to the nature of change in the environment and we looked at a few of them throughout the session. Brugel’s series of nature paintings are a famous example, capturing the essence of each season in succession. More recently, the installation outside of the Tate Museum, London of glacial fragments that slowly melt away, mirroring the gradual decline of the natural world due to climate change is a profound example of the changes happening in the environment around us.
Artworks such as these make us more aware of the impacts of climate change. They connect us to the shifting world we inhabit and really emphasize that the relationship between humankind and nature is profound and necessary.
It’s especially interesting to consider, as we discussed during the session, the way that contemplating art and, for example, its relationship to the environment, is actually a spiritual experience. Art is a part of worship in some traditions – stained glass windows in churches or the Qibla wall in mosques are decorative pieces that are central to their respective beliefs.
The act of contemplating art itself, however, can also be spiritual as it allows you to slow down and to connect with the creation before you. In a way, it can be an act of meditation. This is part of the reason that I love visiting museums and what I love about the study of art history. The contemplation of artworks is a space where you can quiet the mind and sometimes, as you contemplate and consider the pieces before you, you might even realize amazing insights about yourself.