The artful stoppage of time | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | May 25, 2019

As the Saturday markets open, more and more boats dot the Puget Sound, advertisements for the Edmonds Arts Festival appear, and more than one person lamented last week that this year is flying by too quickly.

We are aware of, and simultaneously surprised by, the impending arrival of the midpoint of the Gregorian calendar year 2019.

It was Shakespeare who wrote so simply of how time flies: ”The swiftest of hours, observed as they flew.” Perhaps the concept of time made its way into his artistic expressions because it was during his lifetime that tracking time more accurately became an international priority (with the transition from the imprecise Julian calendar in 1582).

But it seems more likely that time is just always on our minds. We spend much of each day planning the details of that day, and those in the future, as well as judging the achievements of days and years past. We consider our lives as a progression of events and actions over time – our lifetimes.

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”

Shakespeare, like so many artists of literature, used time as context, as do artists of all media. Art presents moments in time. Art reflects the attitude of the artist toward an event.

Art captures the impressions left by our experiences within the passage of time. In other words, time’s connection to art goes far beyond Salvador Dali’s melting clock.

Throughout history, art has progressed through movements and periods and eras, and it influences how we see ourselves and others. Art serves as an endless series of filters on our existence, and no matter who or where or why, art creates an ability to communicate, even when language or cultures get in the way.

From a cave drawing to an opera, humans have always identified with art, connected it to something familiar at the time of the event or the viewing of the art.

The recent fire at the Notre Dame cathedral reminded me of the series of paintings by Claude Monet depicting light on the cathedral at different times of day. I was 19 the first time I saw Notre Dame and those paintings, so the lens I viewed them through was colored by feelings of new discovery, freedom, and possibility.

That emotion was transferred to my adoration for the cathedral and those paintings, but since the fire, my experience of those paintings is tinged with sadness from the image of the charred structure and a heightened awareness from the passing of a few decades.

Ironically, while time is inherent to art, my uncle, a painter, and I often discuss how time seems to stop when we are focused on art. When he paints, he says, he is no longer aware of time and in some ways, not even of himself.

When I write or read someone else’s words, I tend to disassociate from the world around me, the environs fading like the blurry background of a photograph. Like any activity that requires heightened attention, engaging in the creation or appreciation of some form of art allows you to disengage from daily realities.

That focus, a gift from art’s sensory overload, makes it possible to stare endlessly at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, nearly half the length of a football field filled with masterpieces, and leave long after the lunch reservation you planned, fixated on the detail of an outstretched hand.

Art helps us steal those moments that suspend time.

In the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” three friends make the most of a day, playing hooky from high school. In a memorable scene at a museum, each stands apart, studying different pieces, and the frame settles on the friend character, Cameron, who is struggling to navigate his impending adulthood, as he fixates on a little boy in a George Seurat painting.

By the end of the film, the characters and the audience know that day interrupted the blur of high school with a lasting memory waiting to be captured.

As Ferris says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

 

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