Friday, March 9, 2012

Vase of Flowers

The chill of the morning being wiped away as the rising sun peaks the horizon and its warm light bathes your face.

The simple sense of pleasure as you squeeze your eyes shut and inhale the enchanting aroma of a rose.

Wheezing through the thin air, you exert what's left of your strength and give it your all to pull yourself up the final rock as you crest the mountain only to behold the breathtaking view on the other side.

That instantaneous moment as you are on one knee, looking up at her face, and she answers, "Yes!"

Isn't it convenient that each moment we are met with a sense of optimism is the same moment one of our senses is overwhelmed? Well, perhaps not convenient but a blessing? With each of the examples above, though, if you're able to empathize with those moments, you're able to remember how it felt and how nothing else in the world mattered. Being overcome with reality in a way that surpasses frivolity is a moment in your life where optimism and hope were real. You were able to find a tangible source to remind you that things really are not that bad.

All too often and almost always coupled with complacency, individuals will miss out on the positive things in life because selfishness has become the dominant catalyst. Self-centered and apathetic towards others, he or she ignores the alleviating emotion that exists in nearly every single moment in life. Instead of walking away from a seemingly tragic moment reminded of one's own fortune, the individual allows his selfishness to promote anger. Instead of feeling genuinely happy for a newly wedded friend, the individual allows his selfishness to promote envy. You get the picture.

Not all circumstances in life will usher in obvious opportunities to feel good. In fact, it's foolish to expect it. But the individual who seeks to find the good in all things is the one who will yield the most fulfilling life. No matter how great or difficult life can be, it's up to every single one of us to dig beyond our own centric ideals and find the wisp of promise and relief that resides in each and every moment.

Vase of Flowers, by Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), is one of the most vivid still-life paintings ever created. On display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, this work is masterfully described as:
Arranged in a terracotta vase displaying an antique relief, Jan van Huysum included flowers from all seasons of the year--roses, anemones, hyacinths, tulips, and more--and painted them directly from life. The flowers' nearly overripe quality attests both to nature's bounty and its transience. The bouquet is ordered in a loose pyramidal shape, with flowers and greenery almost bursting to be free of the vase. Butterflies and other insects fly or crawl amongst the arrangement, and drops of water are visible on leafs and shiny petals.

Meticulous in his method and famous for the genre, van Huysum would sometimes painstakingly take several years to complete his paintings.

I've never honestly been a fan of still-life. It's never felt expressive to me until I recently saw this piece in person. At the time, I was mesmerized by the stark detail and incredible colors. It felt like I was looking at something created on a computer rather than a 18th Century art piece. And then the last two weeks happened. Frustration after frustration, set-back after set-back; it was a relentless barrage of negativity and spurned on by apathetic masses who wallow in ignorance. With each wave of vitriol and having the responsibility of policing it, I kept screaming inside at the faceless crowds hoping it would end and that they would see the light.

And that's just it! There is light there! There is light everywhere!! No matter the circumstances or your understanding of the truth, there is light and if you refuse to find it, you are hurting yourself and everyone else around you. It's a simple law and it is flawless. When faced with adversity, if you seek to find the good, the hope, the light, you will inevitably bring good, hope, and light into your life and to those around you. Optimism is not a disease or a chore but a gesture of kindness, a sign of wisdom, and the result of a selfless attitude.

When I spend time examining the details of van Huysum's Vase of Flowers, I'm lost in color, beauty, detail, and simplicity surrounded by glorious complexity. The burdensome weights of this world and life and responsibility no longer matter as I am optimistically swept away with still-life that is calming and wonderful. If you're capable of doing the same, then no matter what type of situation you face, you can repeat the practice. Go on! Find the wisp of reason to be optimistic and then share with me what happened. I would truly enjoy it.

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