Building a Relationship with Art


View from the ICA Boston
View from the ICA Boston

In the movie Almost Famous, Penny Lane has a great line about finding solace in art: “if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Whether it’s music, visual art, movies, or books, art experiences have the potential to connect with us on a visceral level. It can transport us. It can help us practice compassion for ourselves and others. This is true of seeing art for the first time, but I find it to be much stronger when I see art I know well.

So what is this ‘familiar art’? For me, it’s a museum that I know so well that it feels like a friend’s living room. It’s an artist’s work that creates a special – and at the same time ordinary – space whether I’m seeing it in Boston or Paris or on a library floor in an art book. It’s taking the shortest route through a gallery, ignoring a bunch of other wonderful paintings, to see that one piece I always visit.

Dropping into the familiar can be a meditative experience. There are constants and differences with each new interaction. Sometimes the art is the same and I bring a new perspective; other times a new exhibition is unpredictably distinct in a place I thought I knew. For me, it’s similar to stepping onto the yoga mat.

How do you start this ‘relationship with art’ if you don’t yet have one? By showing up, observing what resonates with you, and returning to it again and again. Where do you go? See if your neighborhood has a gallery. Maybe the library has a rotating exhibit. If you live in a city or travel to one, there are endless kinds of museums to explore. In Boston, there’s public art throughout the city.

Art should be free and more easily accessible, but you can still find free art. I am fortunate to have free access to a few museums through my job. Check your library or community center to see if you can find free passes. There are also free days at museums. In Boston:

  • ICA: Thursdays 5-9pm
  • MFA: Wednesdays 4-10pm
  • Harvard Museum of Natural History: Sundays 9am-noon (for MA residents)

Different experiences fill people’s souls in various ways. For me, art is a good place to start. What is it for you?