I’m in Rome. I’ve been here for several days. I thought the minute I was on vacation my mood would improve but this was not the case. My mood didn’t really start improving until the fourth day. We were in a castle — yes, a real castle (Castel Sant’angelo) — and there was just something about the frescoes and statues that was so amazing that it just, for lack of a better phrase, blew my mind. The statue of Sant’angelo itself, huge and looming, on the top of the castle had such a presence that I was completely engrossed with it.  Somehow that gigantic figure of an avenging angel towering over me affected me in a strangely positive way.

I’ve never been the kind of person who thinks that art can change lives or that it is of dire importance in the world. I’ve never thought it is as important as say mental health services or mission-driven organizations that are helping the world. And yet. Something happened to me on the roof of the castle that couldn’t have happened anywhere but there. It changed me from the inside, and for the better.

It’s interesting for me to consider this as an artist. My art has a profound effect on me, but seems to not have such a profound effect on anyone else. Some people like it very much, but it doesn’t have this effect that I am describing very poorly — this feeling that something essential to their being is changed forever by seeing a particular image.  And of course, for most people my art doesn’t effect them at all. It’s been a while since I’ve seen art that affected me as much as the images I create.

The next day I went to Palazzo Barberini and had more moments of profoundity. I don’t know how else to describe it. There was one magnificent huge room with a 50 foot ceiling. It had gold flecked wallpaper and nothing in it. I felt overwhelmed in that room by another indescribable sensation. Then I went to an adjoining room that was all white marble — the floor, the statues, the ceilings. Through the doorways I could see the giant gold room. I stood there in awe. I felt like I had been there before, that I had always been in that room, looking at that magnificent expanse.  That somehow this palace in Rome was my place, it was mine.

Twenty-five years ago I came to Italy in a state of depression so deep that I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed, and left the country with a small hope that I could and would get better. I’m not nearly as depressed as that, but I am suffering from a lost of identity and feeling of complete pointlessness about my existence. When I first came here and looked at those ruins I thought: there, in that rubble, people just like me lived and died. No one remembers their name, who they were, who they loved. They are completely gone, as if they never existed. One day that will be me.

Now another thought is coming to me: but they lived. Even if they leave no trace, even if I leave no trace, I got to be here through all the wonders and tragedies of life.

The last time I saw art that affected me deeply was also in Italy, on that same trips twenty-five years ago,  at the Uffizi looking a Botticelli’s Primavera. I had seen that image reproduced many times in my life, and have since, but the actual painting was so beautiful it literally made me cry. That is the only time that has ever happened to me in my life.

I fall in love with every country I vacation in. Up until now, I thought it was because I am relaxed, free of responsibilities and worries, and not working.  Before this trip, I was barely working so the feeling of “Hurray! I’m free from my stupid job!” never happened. In any case, I have a new theory about this love. What I love are these moments of awe. Seeing something intensely beautiful for the first time opens, for a brief moment, a sense of timelessness and transcendence that is the very meaning of being alive.

Comments

One Response to “Hope & Beauty in Roma”

  1. K on March 28th, 2016 4:58 pm

    Hooray for art! I think it actually is as important as mental health services. Here’s a video with crazy presentation, but good messages:

    https://youtu.be/sn0bDD4gXrE

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