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When Art Invades an Ugly Space


The Hilton hotel in the south 700 block of Chicago was the largest hotel in the world when it was built. Over 3000 rooms when it was first built in 1927 and the location is still pretty amazing. Views of Lake Michigan in some rooms and walking distance to many Chicago landmarks. Yet, in 1927 the economy was about to collapse. We were in between two world wars and gangsters, prohibition, and poor labor conditions also grabbed headlines at the time. And connecting dots has always been fascinating to me. 
In 1927 the first film with synchronous sound was released. The Jazz Singer, which was that film, was later redone (or remixed if you will) in 1980 with Neil Diamond and Laurence Olivier in the leading roles.In 1927, Buster Keaton was a film star as well against a backdrop of new technology and new discovery. Art, in other words, does something when it shows up.

I think that's why we should embrace being observant while traveling or creative in our work. While science may speak to efficiencies or repeatable processes, love shows up as the art of being image bearers of God complete with expressions that don't always get articulated well. Art that invites interpretation and response. Have you ever tried to describe an amazing kiss? Have you tried to write down the feelings of truly connected sex or how the touch of another person's hand can send your mind and heart in to a secure space and erotic fog at the same time? How about describing the satisfaction of cooking an amazing meal, with your own recipe, in your own kitchen--eating it--then, sitting back and knowing that you killed it. How do we even express that?
Art is so often the overflow of our emotion and our loves. Oh, I know science can be as well, and I'm not saying that the art of engineering or agriculture doesn't matter. I'm just saying that so often the mechanical arts are tied to outcomes and outputs. Bridges need to work and crops need to be harvested. 
Art is so often tied to simply showing up and expressing human passion, emotion, and observation. Science without love becomes strictly an assembly line. Art takes a space that science helped build, adds color, softens sharp edges, and invites humanity to occupy an otherwise functional building. Otherwise, huge hotels in an era fraught with public issues just seems overly extravagant. I wonder how many weddings, romantic get-aways, family meetings, business deals, educational conferences, and chance encounters have happened in the extravagance of the Hilton? I dare say that the scenery mattered.
Within one space of the hotel, there is a quote by sculptor John Payne that reads: "The mind hungers. People need art, just like they need the sun. Without art, the world would be an ugly, gray place."
Remember that one kiss? The touch of that loved one's hand? Whatever ugliness existed in the world faded away quickly didn't it? On the blue line train from O'Hare airport to Jackson street, I recently watched an older Japanese immigrant take out an orange piece of paper and after a few minutes, he turned that ugly orange paper in to a three dimenstional dinosaur. He then handed the dinosaur to a little girl who was sitting with her grandmother. He saw that I was watching. I gestured to him as if I was tipping my invisible cap to him. He gave me a slight bow before departing the train. He made the world better that day and I won't soon forget it. In fact, he created and he emobidied a work of art. 
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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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