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Sunday, May 11, 2003

Last summer, I spent a lot of time in Washington DC going to the various tourist traps and enjoying the small degree of local status I attained by riding the metro home to a Virginia suburb. By far, my two favorite places to stop and ruminate a bit were the Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery - I loved going through the various exhibits and observing, as much as the display itself, the types of people who came to this sort of venue.

Far and away, the majority of visitors were awed as much as any person must be by such fantastic demonstrations of human ingenuity, either with the wrench or paintbrush, but had obviously only come because they felt compelled to visit each stop along the mall. They would come, armed to the teeth with their 35mm cameras and three dollar bottles of water, and ghost their way along, spending nary a moment to inspect the name of the artist who had created the masterpiece. Sometimes the name was Wright. Others it was Renoir. In either case, a flash of recognition would spark and off they would go, smugly sure of their elevated status as they could now tell their friends they had seen such things as one is supposed to have seen to be considered an adult and conversant in the lexicon of their culture.

In some cases, however, there would be people who really seemed to connect with whatever they happened to be gawking at - to understand that before them was the extension of another human soul, lain bare despite being behind an inch of bulletproof plastic. There is a presupposed dichotomy, one which is omnipresent in any discussion which is going to compare art to engineering, as people believe that there is no reconciliation of these two disparate disciplines except those incidental to all visual forms. Spending that summer, I don't really think this is true.

The two buildings could not be more different - the stone facade of the gallery, adorned with carvings and intricate enough to be considered the masonic equivilent of embroidery, is hardly similar in appearance to the white boxes intermingled with dark glass which compose the air and space museum. Their contents are also as different as night and day; one houses such artifacts as the lunar module and moonrocks while across the way we have marble statues and impressionist oil paintings juxtaposed in the complex maze of rooms. The is one thing which links the two inextricably is a sort of peace.

We, as human beings, are unique as far as we know to comprehend steps of daring. Whether it be the sort of daring which Picasso undertook in questioning the role of reality in painting or the sort which forced someone to look to the cosmos and question, "Why not?" This is where the dichotomy of which I spoke earlier shows itself. When looking at these two monoliths of their respective fields, there is a general tension between the terms 'reason' and 'faith'. Nobody ever considers the idea that faith ever comes into play in many of these advances, but this I say: nobody ever chipped away the first piece of marble, touched brush to canvas, began work on a magnetic motor or penned a new scientific theory without faith as the ultimate facilitator of their act.

When stepping out across the uncharted wilderness of human knowledge, we must have faith that the ice will not crack under us and allow us to be swallowed into the icy depths of obscurity and disappointment. Reason and faith are not opposites, working as a dialectic to advance human understanding - but rather separate parts of the same machine. Reason is the tool which allows people to reach their goals, but reason is fueled by faith in all manner of things. No completely rational action has ever been taken, and indeed what kind of world would we be in if it were?

Sometimes the greatest yield comes when one gives faith where one should not. What person in love has ever been so because it was rational to allow another person access to their deepest secrets and make themself completely vulnerable? What gains can someone make with another person without putting faith in them, and recognizing that the alternative is the death of one's very innermost being?

I used to hate faith - but only because I didn't have any. Maybe it's about time for another summer living among the accomplishments of those braver than I to replenish it.

cranked out at 11:45 PM | |

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