Expectations of the Unknown
September 10, 2014
Walking into the Galleria dell’ Academia, my pulse was beginning to quicken. I looked around and caught a glimpse of his eye and my step faltered, but then I realized it was just a picture of his eye. This continued around every corner as we twisted and turned through the museum until finally we burst out into the main hall. There in front of me stood David, famed for his beauty, grace, and elegance. I had heard so many people describe his wonder and I had been building myself up for the awe of that first glimpse. It was really happening, I was standing in front of David, the real, authentic masterpiece of Michelangelo and my heart jumped with that first glance; it fell when my gaze settled.
I had known I was coming to see a masterpiece and I had heard it was the most beautiful sight in the world, or at least had taken other’s more honest descriptions and led myself to that impression. As my gaze settled, all I saw was a statue of a man, one that I had already seen replicas of all over Florence. I had hoped his beauty would break me down and bring me to tears, would reach into my soul and provide a direct connection to Plato’s form of Beauty. That didn’t happen. Instead, I looked with such high expectations, the expectations of something yet unknown but praised, something I had extolled as the epitome of beauty, the epitome of human excellence, and all I saw was cold, hard stone.
Disappointed and discouraged, I looked on for a few minutes, hoping that feeling would come, hoping that Michelangelo’s sculpted stone would, in turn, sculpt my soul. My head hung low as I walked away down another hall to another set of rooms and explored other paintings and statues that seemed hollow. Then I started to realize it wasn’t so much the art that was hollow, but rather I was hollow from disappointment. As this realization struck, so did another: perhaps the statue was not meant to have the effect I had hoped from it. It is not for a statue to sculpt a man. In fact, only two beings can sculpt a man: God and himself. Maybe it wasn’t the statue lacking beauty or elegance, but rather my own lacking.
I had expected David to connect me to Plato’s Beauty, but Plato would never agree with that. It is up to me to order my soul so that I might truly appreciate Beauty. Now, I’m not claiming I perfectly ordered my soul in five minutes walking around the museum, but examining yourself like I did is a certain ordering of the soul. With my new realizations, I started to think about David and just the memory started to seem more beautiful. The cold, hard stone seemed to have a certain life to it, something deeper than anything in the other artworks around me. I wasn’t quite convinced but I decided to turn around and have another look.
It is hard to describe everything a masterpiece of art helps a man do when he realizes that the art is not going to do it for him. I stood and stared and was filled with awe at his beauty, but it was not David who filled me, rather something higher. God tries to fill us with awe at His beauty every day but He can’t force us to see it, we must choose to. Beauty is a certain connection with God, even David’s beauty, because it is in God’s image that man was made and it was in man’s image that Michelangelo made David, man’s most perfect image. However, all of this was only possible when I realized that, as a man, I have the power to turn myself where I please and nothing else has that power to turn me. Beauty cannot reach out, grab me, and pull me closer to itself and to God unless I open myself to beauty and search it out. In a world where things are being handed out more and more often, it was a reminder that the heart and soul cannot be changed by another. You cannot hand out happiness: it must be pursued.
Happiness is a long and difficult pursuit. Nothing ever seems to lead directly to it and yet, everything seems so closely tied to it. It, is a pursuit of something immaterial, something, hard to grasp, and it is even a strange pursuit as people seem to do silly or crazy things all in order to find happiness. The pursuit of happiness reminds me in a way of Lewis Caroll’s, The Hunting of a Snark; after all, these men search the snark for the sake of happiness:
They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railwayshare;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.
Hopefully, for our sakes, happiness does not end as the hunting of a snark, where the gleefully happy who find it disappear into thin air. We must seek virtue in every form. Whether beauty, love, or truth; pursue it with hope, threaten its life if that’s what it takes, but don’t ever give up the search.
A statue of cold, hard stone reminded me that mankind is not stone, but something more complex. We are capable of virtue – not just the virtue of beauty, even stone can accomplish that in a masters hand – but of virtue as a whole, with many different virtues that come together to make man. The problem is that we have to seek them out; they don’t just come to us. Even in the presence of virtue, it is not simply impressed upon us, but it must be obtained. Nor can we simply achieve it and settle on what little we achieve because we are temporal creatures. And so, with every changing day, wechange and must continue to seek the virtue we wish to possess.
John Case is a junior from Creston, Ohio majoring in Political Science, Philosophy, and History.