On Fragile Art and People

HK Museum of Art TST Visitors 8%20wiki - On Fragile Art and People

I am in a Shanghai art museum, looking at paintings that are hundreds of years old. So old, in fact, that even light damages them. But what good is art kept in the dark, out of view? Why preserve it if it will never be seen?

So these paintings hang behind leaded glass, under dim lights controlled by motion sensors. I see a darkened room that others avoid, seemingly closed, but decide to venture in. As I approach, I am rewarded with gentle light, showing me something beautiful that was just waiting for me to brave the darkness.

The lights are dim to protect the paintings, and dimly lit art is like a poem delivered softly: one must lean forward to perceive it best. There is a special intimacy about this.

Even this dim light is corrosive to the paintings. They are shared even though they are gradually destroyed in the sharing. Every new memory of these paintings diminishes actuality of them.

There is beauty in this, I think. The things are given up, used up, in the act of doing what they are intended to do. They live, in a manner of speaking, for others. It is of no moment that they die fulfilling this purpose. It is their purpose to be consumed thusly. Without out the light that consumes them, there is no reason for their continued existence. They might as well be burned in a bonfire as kept locked away in the dark.

And I think, people are like this, too. Sometimes there is nothing about them that invites you in. They are just going about their business as people do, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, trying to live. But if you approach them, sometimes the lights come on—if dimly—and reward you with a glimpse of something beautiful and temporary. And a person unseen, disconnected, is just as pointless as a painting in a dark museum vault—preserved for no purpose.

— Jason Dias

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