“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” —Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy
Last week was adventure week: I spent the time traveling to Munich and Rome with my parents, both of whom were traveling to Europe for the first time. Along with drinking plenty of Irish and German beer, eating all the local foods, and practicing our questionable language skills, we also got completely overwhelmed with art. Dublin has a certain charm, but its grey skies and sedate architecture really can’t compare to the blasts of beauty we saw in Nymphenburg Palace’s colorful Great Hall, Amalienburg’s Rococo Hall of Mirrors, and the art-packed rooms of the Vatican Museums. Apples and oranges!
No matter if you’re generally drawn to shiny, pretty things, the art and architecture throughout both Munich and Rome are enough to convert you into a sharp-eyed raven with a penchant for glitter. I kept finding myself drawn to the Rococo rooms, the bursts of lavender and yellow! The Hall of Mirrors at Amalienburg was one of my favorite experiences. Weeks prior to our trip I had scouted out the entire Schloss Nymphenburg area, and Amalienburg really caught my eye. The circular room is quite empty—apparently the style of the court was to push all the furniture to the very outer walls, leaving the center of the room wide open. Despite the hollowed-out arrangement, the room feels full and lively, with silver ornamentation twining across the walls and into the mirrors around the room that reflect the rich green of the outdoors from every angle. Really, you get a strange feeling of being outside, with all the reflected greenery surrounding you! The rich Rococo style seems out of place when you learn that the residence was a hunting lodge for the Electress, but according to her biographies, she was quite stylish and feisty, so the contrast begins to make sense. I love the thought of her striding through the ornate rooms carrying a goose she’s just shot, immaculately dressed and mud coming off her boots.
I could go on.
And Rome… well, I have to echo everyone I’d spoken to prior to arriving in the Eternal City: you’re going to love it. If ever you hear someone talk about art not mattering, about how it’s a waste of time to teach creative things to children in school, or anything about the value of artistic effort, tell them to visit Rome, and then let you know how they feel. There is an undeniable surge of feeling of life you get when you gaze up and up at the precisely crafted dome of the Pantheon. When you enter the looming majesty of St. Peter’s Piazza and all its 140 marble saints. When you crane your neck to witness the masterpieces of Raphael and Michelangelo! “Art inspires” is an old adage, but the phrase in itself is tired and uninspiring. When we say that art inspires, we’re not talking about a print we saw in a shop that made us say “oh, cute,” or about a sculpture that we got just because goes with the rest of the living room. We’re talking about something that punches us in the chest and makes our hearts swell—something that pricks our attention and calls up our emotions and makes us feel truly alive and part of something larger than ourselves, including the experience of witnessing a masterpiece that’s been doing the work of inspiration for centuries.
This trip was a reminder to me to dedicate myself to something that is an experience in itself and makes others come alive. I was impressed by the dedication to art in the past, the true effort to create lasting and meaningful beauty. Michelangelo dedicated four years completing just the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. What can we devote ourselves to?
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” —Ray Bradbury