Stealing Inspiration

I’m not often a goer to art museums.

But today might have changed me.

For today, today I’m thankful for art.

Since I got my job a couple weeks ago as a copy editor at the Technician, the daily newspaper published by N.C. State’s Student Media Association, I’ve made a habit of reading the paper every day with my bag in one hand and a highlighter in the other, marking passages that I know are wrong or areas where I’m uncertain and require additional research in order to enhance my own grasp of the AP-Technician blended style we use.

I had a few extra papers I hadn’t read entirely lying around my room, and in an attempt to clean, I put myself to finishing these unfinished tasks. In one article I read about a woven art exhibit at the Gregg Museum (a part of the Talley Student Center at NCSU) entitled “In Response” by two artists, Ann Roth and Vita Plūme, part of which, the article said, was inspired by quilting techniques.

One of my very best friends loves quilting.

So I instantly sent her a text message asking if she wanted to go to the exhibit together. We’ve both transferred this semester, but our classes and the sheer vastness of the campus keep us apart more often than not, so I figured it would be an interesting opportunity for us to visit and see something we could both enjoy.

Assuming, of course, that I would enjoy the exhibit.

I’ve never been much of a goer to museums, and those museums I have been to are usually devoted to natural history and science, space and aerospace, or historical periods, such as Greensboro’s cultural past or the Holocaust. The last time I visited an art museum I had an awful experience. I didn’t have any fun and my 101 Dalmations virtual pet (aka, a Disney Tamagotchi) had died. As in, stopped working. I was devastated.

Nonetheless, I do appreciate novelty, and after my literature class last spring, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the arts–so why not visit the art exhibit on campus?

Well, plans fell through. Already exams are coming up and my friend is swamped, but having made the decision to go, I could not easily change my mind. Besides, I could tell her how it was afterwards.

When I arrived at the Gregg Museum, it was my first time visiting and I wasn’t really sure what to do. Or what I would see. Or how a museum could fit inside such a small part of such a large building. Regardless, I was led toward the exhibit with relative ease. There was an entryway piece with some words about “In Response” and its creators, so I stopped to read what it had to say. I found a typo. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them when the exhibit ends in two days.

I finished reading and then took a step closer toward the weaving hanging on the wall. And then a second step closer.

How peculiar, I thought, a weaving woven of yarn–each strand a piece of weaving woven from threads–and each thread a weaving woven of fibers. The introduction had warned of the circular nature of the art inside, but already my head was spinning. So many layers, so many dimensions of detail–how could I take it all in?

I stepped away from the wall and surveyed the piece. From a distance, you could not see the fibers, nor the threads, nor the strands of yarn–only the coming together of all of these miniscule elements could be seen, a glorious whole that told a completely different tale.

In a moment my mind was filled with flashes of daily life–how it’s the coming together of all these small things that make us whole, that make us a person or a society, a campus or a country–and of physics–how what we see, this reality surrounding us, is itself built upon ever-smaller quantities of matter and mass, some smaller even than the light that gives us color–and of math–how at the core of every equation is a proof that rests upon axioms and assumptions so critical yet small that the slightest tilt in their truth could cripple the entire system.

All from a single piece of art.

And I wasn’t even inside the exhibit yet.

When you turn into the exhibit hall, the first thing that sees you is eyes. Hundreds upon hundreds of eyes–and only eyes–lie along the other wall, each sepia photograph not a photograph at all but a weaving of the eyes of a soldier who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. These faces, these bits of broken faces, just sort of hang there. And though on the surface lifeless, the longer you look at them, the more they seem to float in a white field of emptiness, and the more their gazes come alive and pierce you, through the head and through the heart.

If you walk closer, ever closer, the photographs morph into paintings that change into woven bits of thread that, even closer, fail to form a picture and instead create an abstract collection of greys and browns before you.

But from a distance it comes to life.

However, the faces were not my first stop. My first stop was one of the quilts–in fact, the only quilt–that had served as inspiration. I stared at it, as with all the others, first from a few inches and then from a few feet away. The change was drastic–and that it was repeatable simply by moving forward and backward made it even more amazing. I couldn’t stand looking at it–the mere presence of such intricate detail was causing my mind to overheat with words of wonder, snips and snaps of poetry and prose fighting to spew forth onto something–anything.

I grabbed my iPad and grabbed a seat and began to write.

“What would our mothers think…”

Until the poem was finished, I could not move. And when I was finally able to move, I saw my time had vanished and I needed to leave. But I’ll return. In fact, I plan to go again after class tomorrow, and then again to the closing reception on Thursday if I can make it. I feel I owe the artists my thanks. First for changing my perspective, for opening this realization to me that all things small yield all things great, yet one cannot always see the whole for its pieces or the pieces for their whole–and second for filling me with inspiration.

I feel a little guilty actually.

I’ve taken their inspiration and ran with it.

What was theirs is now mine.

And what is mine I’m now aching to share.

Art is truly amazing.

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