The Power of Art: Making the Ordinary Romantic

The Power of Art: Making the Ordinary Romantic

by Joseph Tabenkin, Boethius Fellow

For quite a number of years now, art has become an important part of my life. One of the main values I take from art is its ability to change how I see the world. It helps me see beyond the ordinary and see essentials. Each branch of art can do this in a different way. I’d like to share a story from a recent trip to Paris and Israel that I think can demonstrate the power of art and, hopefully, convince you to make it part of your life.

World War II has always fascinated me – the scale of the conflict, the righteousness of the cause, and the stories of heroism have captured my imagination and interest. When I found myself in France last spring, I knew I had to make the trip to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy.

Throughout the day we toured the various battle sites, hearing tales of heroism. Our tour ended at the American cemetery at Omaha beach. It’s a beautiful place. The gardens are immaculate. The setting is beautiful and peaceful.

Overlooking the rows of grave markers is a statue of a young man. When I first saw it I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was not expecting it. I couldn’t help but feel in awe looking up at him towering over me. His body is triumphant and yet there’s a sadness in his face. It’s beautiful and tragic. The title of this statue is “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From The Waves”. I felt overwhelmed. Even writing about it now is difficult.

This statue made everything I had experienced that day more vivid. It captured my feelings on the triumph and tragedy of World War 2 and the immense gratitude I feel for those people who fought for something they believed in. The statue embodies the spirit of the American youth who went on to defeat the Nazis but also the tragedy of the price that was paid. The statue and what it represented would come back to me in an unexpected way.

A week later I arrived in Israel. For those of you who don’t know, Israel has a mandatory army service starting at 18. Nearly every Israeli does at least a few years of service. It’s common to see young off-duty soldiers walking the streets of Tel Aviv in their army fatigues, a gun slung over their shoulder, enjoying their day. This is normal in Israel. It’s ordinary. I was expecting to see this. What I didn’t expect was how I would react. Each time I passed one of these soldiers, I saw the statue from Omaha beach. I would well up with emotion. Instead of seeing a young adult doing their grocery shopping, I would see “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From The Waves” and everything it represented to me.

My experience in Israel demonstrates one of the most powerful ways art can enhance life. Art can change how you look at the world. It can capture the essence of an idea and value and present it to you in a way that is intense and vivid. It can become a lens through which you can see the world in a different way. It allows you to see your values embedded in the ordinary world around you. Instead of seeing a young soldier, I saw the statue and felt a wave of gratitude.

As you go out into the world, I hope you’ll look for art that you can use in a similar way. I hope you will look for art that will help make the world around you more vivid and that will allow you to experience your values.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use art in this way, I recommend visiting Touching the Art. Luc Travers has a method of reading artworks that can help you connect with art and make it part of your life.

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