If you don’t see something beautiful, look a little closer…

by Kate Rouze

If you don’t see something beautiful, look a little closer…

Or from a little farther away, or for a little longer…

Or stand next to someone who sees beauty in whatever your looking at, and let them show you how…

Today I spent a few hours with my aunt at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. I went first and foremost to spend time with her, but also to see the wing of the museum that I had skipped when we were there a few weeks ago – the modern art wing.

It was no accident that I missed this part of the museum last time, I was not a big fan of modern art, and so much of the rest of the museum is filled with stuff I love – the older renaissance paintings, the Monet’s, Manet’s and Van Gogh’s, and the beautiful Degas dancer statues. They also had a special exhibit in the basement on the history of blue pigment, which was absolutely stunning and I could have spent an entire day on that one level alone.

But I knew my aunt was excited to show me the modern art I had avoided before, so when she asked me where to start, I suggested we go there. Now here’s something to know about my aunt: she’s an artist. And, she also happens to love art. So if you stand next to her in front of a painting, she almost can’t help but point out what she sees – the use of depth, lines, types of brush strokes, layers or lack of paint, and all kinds of little details one might never notice if you’re like me and usually only look at something if it’s pretty, makes me feel good or captures my attention immediately in some striking way.

As I stood next to her looking at the very first painting in the room, I noticed how I was slowly becoming mesmerized by all the details she was pointing out and how her enthusiasm was rubbing off on me. I was captivated by how the painting looked so different close up versus far away, and how it seemed to morph in front of my eyes the longer I stared at it, how different aspects revealed themselves over time. And, I didn’t want to stop looking at it.

After looking at a couple of paintings together, we split up. As she wandered ahead, I felt like I could have stared at each new canvas I came across for hours. I would not have considered many of these works attractive at first glance. In fact, it was mostly the opposite – I would walk up to a new one and think ‘Oh, that’s kind of ugly’ or boring, or disturbing…but then I would notice one detail, and the next, and the next and the next. And there was something delicious about letting myself get lost in whatever was presented in front of me. To just look, without particular care for whether I liked it or not, and to let myself take in as much of it as possible.

I found myself moving slower and slower, not wanting to leave one piece behind, yet being drawn to the next. I was savoring each one like a good meal with friends, wanting to linger just a little longer.

One of the definitions of appreciate is “to be fully aware of”. And, today I realized that to be fully aware of something or someone else, you have to let your attention wander, for even just a fraction of a second, off of yourself and on to that other thing. And that, in itself, is a delicious experience. It’s freeing, if you think about it, to let yourself experience a different reality and become part of something bigger.

And here lies one of the main purposes of art, which is to offer us a different experience of the world. But you can do this with anything in life. Nature does this. Travel does this. Good food can do this.

For example, I have a friend who loves people. I mean she really loves everyone she comes in contact with. It’s her personal mission in life to open everyone up, even just a little bit, so she can say “Hi there fellow human, it’s nice to see you and be with you!”

When I hang out with her, our waitress is not just a waitress but fleshes out into a full on woman with goals and dreams, and hobbies. She morphs from just someone who is serving me into someone I want to get to know, and spend just a little more time with. Same with the Lyft driver, the janitor, the barista or whoever happens to be in my friend’s presence. Including me.

This is the power, and the gift, and the art of appreciation. To see the world in front of you come to life, and feel yourself come alive with it.

As one of my mentors, Kathlyn Hendricks says, “Appreciation is the audacious choice to become exquisitely aware of our experience and focus on the positive.”

And, you can learn to do it anywhere at anytime.

How? Hang out with people who are enthusiastic about something in life, look for what lights them up, and let yourself get just as curious about how they see they world, as you are about how you see the world.

But beware.

If you do this long enough, you may get to a point where in order to expand your ability to see the beauty in the world ‘out there’, you’ll have to be willing to turn the same curious and appreciative gaze inwards on yourself. And, once you do, you may just realize that you are a work of art.

Maybe not one of those pretty, shiny, luminescent, renaissance paintings. But art nonetheless. Crafted and chiseled by your experiences, or splattered on and cobbled together.

And maybe, just maybe, if you look out from this perspective, you’ll notice someone silently appreciating your layers or lack there of, your decadent colors or your white space – and parts of you, you once considered flaws or just plain boring, may actually be modern art.