The National Gallery
London, England, February 2018
The room was crowded with tourists and art enthusiasts. The melody of different languages touched my ears. A thousand different smells. A thousand different voices. People clustered about the painting, and between the crush of somber colored coats, here and there, a flicker of yellow met my eyes.
My father and I moved through the crowd, keeping close together. And as we reached the surface of the hubbub, I saw the masterpiece.
Van Gogh’s sunflowers.
I’m a connoisseur of literature, not art, but Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have always been a favorite of mine among masterpieces of that sort. Owing, in some way, although not only, to the fact that it is entirely my favorite color.
But there’s something beautiful and new in seeing any piece of art in person, no matter how many pictures you might see of it online or in books.
Paintings are flat pictures, yet it seemed to move out towards me in a way that it never could in a photograph. I could see each brushstroke of bright color where it rose from the canvas. And suddenly it was real. Not a name in a history book, or a still image on my screen, but a real thing that a real person had created.
Now in my mind, I see the people coming and going.
Watch as they raise their cameras and smartphones, join the crowd for a few moments, before moving on to the unfinished painting of Leonardo Davinci.
The bells of Saint Paul call out the hour, once, and then again, and again. Visitors come and go. The sun rises and then begins to fall.
Lights come on in the streets outside, the crowds dwindle, disperse, evaporate. Amber rays of the setting sun sweep patterns over the gallery’s staircases through their few small windows.
The doors are locked, the museum closes, night casts its cloak over the rooftops and tosses its glittering stars into the sky. The windows of houses and apartments become small squares of gold in the velvet dusk.
Inside the gallery, those bright yellow flowers are alone. Where once there was a babble of voices, now there are only the silver whispers of silence. Where once the bright overhead lights glowed, now there is gentle darkness. Where once there was a sea of onlookers, now there is nothing.
Those bright golden blossoms are alone.
Likely, few think of them.
And yet still they hang upon the wall, with all the pride and beauty as they did before. Their value does not dim simply because the lights do. Their loveliness does not decrease simply because the crowds do.
“A masterpiece is still a masterpiece when the lights are off and the room is empty.” – Charlotte Geier
At the Realm Makers Conference, which I attended last July, the leader of our continuing session asked a question which I will never forget.
“Would you rather,” he asked, “sell your book to millions of people who would forget about it as soon as they finished it? Or would you rather sell your book to only one person, but a person whose life would be changed forever by it?”
The room elapsed into half thoughtful, half stubborn silence.
“Which do you pick?” he asked. “The first option or the second option?”
There were scattered mummers of “second option” around the room.
“Right.” He nodded and smiled. “We all say that we’d pick the second option. But what if that one person…was you?”
Contrary to what society will tell you, attention does not equal value. Value is something that is determined personally within your own heart and mind. Something that only you can decide.
So now, here I sit, as ripe January sunshine pours over my keyboard, as the theme music from my younger sibling’s TV show drifts up from the basement, I write on.
Perhaps this book will be a roaring success, perhaps it will be a complete flop.
But to me, it will always be a masterpiece, long after the cover is closed.
docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence