Outwardly walking, inwardly sprinting

1 07 2011

On my flight to Amsterdam, I picked up  Ian McEwan’s novel Amsterdam in which he describes one character as “outwardly walking, inwardly sprinting”. I thought, that sounds a whole lot like me!

There are two forms of movement referred to in the quote: walking (slow, calm) and sprinting (rapid, hurried). There’s an allusion to a hurriedness that’s intrinsic to one’s behaviour (sprinting), masked at the same time by an illusion of calmness (walking).

In certain ways the quotation really fits me quite well. I’m mostly calm and composed, but also always wanting to do more, see more, move more. There’s not a lot of walking and waltzing in me. It’s more of a brisk walk, often speeding up into a sprint – sprinting for everything.

Spending a few days in Amsterdam and visiting museums made me think a little more about this whole ‘movement’ thing.

What do we really get from museum visits?
I’d like to think that there is movement involved: an intellectual kind of movement, a kind of unconscious soaking up of knowledge which may (or may not) come in handy later on. Also, a kind of spiritual movement (in art museums anyway) – looking at the artists’ creative process, trying to understand what they wanted to express, putting myself in the artists’ shoes and attempting to look at the paintings from their viewpoint.

There’s also movement in that we’re allowed a glimpse of how the concept of beauty has moved and evolved over time. I think the

Still life by Adriaen van Utrecht

Dutch masters of still life are great for this. Nowadays a lot of us have taken to taking photos of our food and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr. whatever. We do this beacause the food is what we look at, and also what we want others to look at. It’s important enough to us to be worth of a picture shared to the world. Perhaps we find, unconsciously, some intrinsic beauty in our food which compels us to record it.

Photo posted on Twitter by @dotsmy

To a large extent, I think the Dutch still life masters did the same thing. Intricate paintings of potatoes, wine glasses, flowers, fruits…meticulous attention paid to light and shadows: these were what the Dutch still life masters saw and painted. In this sense I find it fascinating to move back in time and look at what these Dutch masters spent their days examining closely.

OK. So there’s all this movement everywhere – but then what?
I’m not too sure what it is that I take away from each of these museum visits. It probably isn’t any kind of profound inspiration, because I don’t know enough about the paintings to relate properly. I’m not even sure if I take away any concrete form of knowledge either, because as much as I’ve been exposed to these new forms of artistic stimuli, I don’t think I’ve learnt anything – not consciously anyway.

What I do think I take away from these museum visits is a kind of slowing down. The artworks (try to) make me stop my inward sprinting, and to slow it to a run, a jog, maybe even a saunter. They make me stop, look, examine, attempt to appreciate and understand – slow down to take it all in.

So perhaps that’s what I really take from museum visits: to outwardly walk, and to inwardly reflect, ponder, and…slow down.

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2 responses

10 07 2011
Anna

Very good points, I especially liked what you said about the capturing of what is beautiful in a certain space of time.
I agree, you sort of unconsciously soak in knowledge, especially the stuff that piques you… that’s what I’ve learnt from my museum visits, especially the hk museum of medical sciences.. Loveeed and can still recount the museum plan and all the exhibits within it!
Is that why it’s a MUSEum…? :):)

11 07 2011
marykmhui

Oh my, Anna! Your clever little pun there is quite timeless – MUSEum, I see! Thanks for you comments – I love reading them.

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