PICTURE: Confessions of a museum geek

I keep hoping I'll win a contest where the prize is to live in an art museum for as long as I want. You can keep the Grand Canyon or views from the Empire State Building. When it comes to experiencing awe, Sir Thomas More's beard stubble in Hans Holbein's portrait,

the eerie shade of blue in Giovanni Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert"

blow me away.

The centuries-old universal impulse to create, to attend to the finest details of craftsmanship, to pursue an obsession (think Claude Monet and his water lilies) never fail to intrigue me.

What inspired the Peruvian artist to gather, dye, and arrange feathers for a purely aesthetic purpose?

Who fashioned this exquisite fan, turning a practical item into an object of beauty?

Whatever possessed Marcel Duchamp to cover a cup, saucer, and spoon with fur?

Art represents the best of us. In a pitiless, destructive world, it is what endures.

This Greek krater

this fragment of the head of an Egyptian queen

have survived tyrants, tragedy, the ravages of time. Someone somewhere right now is creating a work of art that will also withstand the worst of us. And I find that utterly consoling.

However personal my reaction to what I encounter in a museum, the experience is never passive or private. With every painting, sculpture, object, I am engaged in a conversation with the artist. "I am here. See me," the painter says quietly like Hans Memling in one of his portraits

- or screaming through fierce fangs like Willem de Kooning in "Woman."

"I am here. I see you," I reply - in chorus with my fellow museumgoers. We look, we react, we speak - or are rendered speechless - like an audience in a cinema or theater. For the brief time we are together in a museum, we aren't strangers.

Creativity, consolation, community, all in one place.

Book me a room.

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