Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Restore and Renew...

"Every work of art starts out on the progressive path to destruction from the moment it is created. The artist can only hope to delay this time for as long as possible by the judicious choice of materials and their application with a sound technique. When the object passes from the artist's hands he can but pray it will be well looked after." Francis Kelly – 20th century restorer.
a restorer, courtesy Wall Street Journal

 It's that time of year again...time to celebrate ...but time to reflect.  Inexorable time leads me to another birthday and the inclination to hang blessings and losses in the galleries of memory...and the disinclination to do the math. 

 Inexorable: relentless, unstoppable, unavoidable, inescapable.
Young Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer
I always visit the National Gallery of Art while in Washington, DC.  Strolling through the galleries is one way to restore balance, perspective.  Man has been creating art...objects of beauty, reverence, imagination...before time was measured.  And why?  What impulse informs the need to create beauty in whatever or marble, paint, wood, ink, or flowers?  I'm no evolutionary biologist, so my answer is simple and worshipful:  our Creator put beauty in man's makeup because He wanted to us to notice this completely-non-bread-and-butter, non-essential-to-survival trait  and recognize it as a clue to His continuing presence and loving-kindness.
Niagra Falls by Frederic Church
In our fallen world, even perfect beauty decays. Our energy and the spark of creative fire can dim from birthday to birthday.  Walking back in time through the galleries from 20th century realists to pre-Renaissance and ancient art is an exercise not just in finding common humanity between centuries, continents, and cultures, but a reminder of how very fragile the thread is that maintains these ancient communications.
St. Paul by Rembrandt
I'm not as old as anything in the West Gallery (modern art is in the East Wing), but having another birthday is a good reason for restoration.  The first quote is as true of the human condition as of artworks: as perfect as we may have appeared to our excited parents, we were on the downhill course when we drew our first breath.  We can eat well, work hard, be loved and be happy, but even these "sound techniques"will but delay and never defeat the decay of time, hurt, and all the other burdens of our fallen lives.
But the Psalmist offers another take on restoration and renewal.  And a birthday is the perfect time to sing that song to myself.  I don't expect to be better than new...I don't hope for a fountain of youth. Cleaning a painting makes it brighter, more vivid, and reveals hidden details invisible behind aged grime or botched rehabs.  Restoring an antique makes it whole again...but not new.  We won't regain our original shine...but an inward renewal is rewarded with a right spirit  and an increased appreciation for our day to day walk in our day by day world.

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