Things Are Not Always What They Seem: Another Lesson from Art

Are you feeling discouraged? Is it hard to see signs of hope? Last week I had the chance to visit another great museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I was delighted to see they had a special exhibition of the abstract painter Mark Rothko. I had enjoyed his paintings at my recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where I was struck by the rich color in his work. I went up the steps to the tower room in the National Gallery — and entered a room with nine black paintings. The museum describes this exhibit as Rothko’s “black on black” paintings, done in 1964. I was disappointed — I wanted to see color. But as I looked more closely, I could see that the work was far more subtle than that. Rothko used not only black, but rich shades of purple and gray. Every painting was different, and beautiful. Here’s an example of one of the works from the museum’s website.

I can see gloom and doom in a situation, or write someone off as hopeless. But if I can take the time to be curious and actually look and listen, I usually find some signs of strength and resourcefulness — and beauty. Where might you take the time to pay closer attention, to look beyond the obvious?

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