The most visited art museum in the world is the Louvre; it amassed 9.3 million visitors in 2014. Among other European museums, such as the Orsay, Prado, British museums and even the Vatican, it is best known as a center of Western art and culture. These museums are often seen as emblems of European identity, central to defining art as a part of culture in Europe. Of course, most of these museums house art from around the world, which, especially with concerns about repatriation, becomes a complicated issue. Just a couple of days ago, Spain and Argentina agreed to give Ecuador hundreds of works from colonial and indigenous periods. Art, in this way, can become national or continental. Even the construction of these museums categorizes art by country or ethnicity. It is not difficult to see how perceptions of national identity can shape these museums, subtly emphasizing undertones of colonialism and international conflict.
Yet for the millions who flock to the Louvre, most art is not national. Most art happens every day, far away from glass pyramids or Vatican hallways. This art fills me with energy, drives me to spill words onto the page. We paint and sculpt and write and dream in a million different ways all over paper and plastic and city walls. Sometimes, nobody else ever sees this art. I have written snippets, a dozen sentences strung together, that only appear before my own eyes. I am afraid to let this art shine in the open. The words dig deep, allowing memories buried for too long to resurface. They are filled with small feelings, burning passions that express discontent, and overwhelming joys packed with imagination that bubble up my chest. Maybe I am just afraid that if I display these works in the open, I will let myself flourish on the page. I am terrified to let these sentiments define me on an open page, and yet they make me who I am, bursting through my shape.
Other art, we show to the world. There’s a painting that I created over break sitting on my shelf. A bright yellow, sun-like center sits in the middle, and dark blues and greens radiate outwards, strokes brushed together in a series of darkening circles. They craft a shifting vortex of ocean that transitions into pitch black. Personal art is everywhere, from papers submitted in class to clubs and magazines and shows. It resides in shops and galleries in Ithaca, graffiti on underpasses in my home town, and little works and trinkets spread out all over the world. I am not sure how many people believe these small pieces can truly express our world, but in every one of them sits a bit of love or hate or an idea that shapes our world. They stare back at us with just as much intensity as Mona Lisa’s smile, and if we are part of their story, they may touch us deeper than a famous painting ever could.
This is not to say that there is no place for giant museums or understanding the world from a wide view. They serve their purpose, but sometimes, taking a closer look at our near surroundings may bring us closer to parts of ourselves and our world. National identities can be found in local art, and local ideas can be found in the art and construction of any gallery. However, the ideas we sculpt ourselves and find in the nooks and crannies around us, the ones that lie deeply hidden or shine subtly, represent parts of the world we may enjoy the most.
Hunter Moskowitz is a sophomore in ILR. He enjoys playing the cello and running. His posts appear on alternate Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.