Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nike of Samothrace

I love the term breathtaking. So few things earn the right to be called breathtaking but when they do, oh man! It's exhilarating to suddenly encounter something that stops the world and causes your vision and mind to appropriately narrow. It could be another person, the look on someone's face, a smile, a piece of art, architecture; this list goes on and on, but you get the idea. What makes the experience of having my breath taken even more amazing is the potential for awkward silence; I love it! Though, I do digress.

Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is a great example of something breathtaking. I first saw the masterpiece at a small theater in Medford, Oregon. As the early scenes played upon the screen and the beach invasion began, my breath was thoroughly sapped as I watched a soldier instinctively trudge through the bloody water and sand in search of his severed arm. As he picked it up and headed back towards the front line, I can recall the squeeze I felt both in my chest and in my heart. As the final scenes played and Ryan turned to his wife and asked, "Tell me I'm a good man," I realized I had just watched the first movie in my life where I wasn't sure how to feel. The experience was simply breathtaking.

When something is so beautifully uncommon, it causes a physical reaction where it feels as if a cement truck has driven over my chest. From the involuntary collapsing of my lungs to the pulsating rush of blood to my head, for me it's a thrill. I don't feel like I need to put myself into dangerous positions or exotic locales to then force the same reaction. No, having it always be happenstance makes the experience all the more appreciated and genuine. From simple things like when my niece comes over to give me a hug, to complex experiences like the time I emerged from a dense forest only to myself on the edge of a boulder overhanging a deep gorge rife with greenery; these breathtaking moments are unscripted and deeply cherished.

Nike of Samothrace, (also known as Winged Victory of Samothrace), by an unknown artist, is a marble sculpture of the Greek Goddess Nike (Victory) as she descends from the heavens to pay tribute to those who have just won a great sea battle. Estimated to have been sculpted around 190 B.C., the piece is one of the most celebrated and famous works of art known to mankind. Accolades aside, what is most striking about the figure is the collision of violent motion, grace, and sudden stillness all culminating into something angelic and yes, breathtaking.

Admittedly, it's not easy to come up with words for this piece. If you haven't noticed, I've avoided them quite a bit and more so than any other work of art that I've written about. It's because I feel it's unnecessary and unwarranted. Here before us is something that should be quietly admired in person. Yet its embodiment of taking breath away is reason enough to at least acknowledge it. Indeed, the woman's figure and curves are tantalizing, and her 2100 year old clothing shows great similarity to what is still being designed in fashion today, but what more can I say? I feel as if I'm already belittling its significance and beauty. In other words, I don't know how to feel about this sculpture, and I certainly don't want to imply how others should feel, either. It is breathtaking and my hope is others understand this, too.

Captain Miller grabbed Ryan and pulled him closer to his face. With his last breath, he uttered, "James? Earn this ... earn it." It was one of the most powerful moments in the entire film and I feel directly correlates with what I try to do with each blog I write. I'm not here to unveil the secrets and mysteries surrounding beautiful works of art for I am no expert. I'm here merely to express how certain works can be appreciated by showing they coincide with regular human emotions. And through my words I hope to earn nothing more than increased self-respect. For in my daily life, I can be uncouth and vividly different than most others around me. Yet when I sit down to write and as dulcet tones pour into my ears helping to separate me from my surroundings, I shed every ounce of who I am to have my breath taken and to pay my respects to art.

I hope I've earned this.

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