Contrasting Trips: The Dump and The Museum of Art

This morning I ventured to the dump for the first time in my life. Somehow it was always someone else who made those trips, not me. This particular trip was long overdue, as a corner of our driveway was filled with objects of no use to anyone. Not even putting them up for free on freecycle had resulted in their removal. So the pile sat while I didn’t go to the dump, not because the dump was daunting or frightening, but simply because I’d never done it before. The unknown minutiae of navigating to the waste transfer station, paying the fee, and unloading all served as a barrier which was in no way insurmountable, yet sufficient to inspire repeated procrastinations of the project.

In the end all those minutiae were no trouble at all. Finding the place was easy. The fee for a van load was a mere seven dollars. We backed up to a huge pile of accumulated detritus and threw ours onto the stack right next to where some one else had thrown the remains of a roofing project. On the other side was a discarded couch, pieces of an old jungle gym, carpet remains, and a broken mirror. All around were and huge masses of plant matter. It did not smell rotten, though I could tell that there was another pile somewhere nearby which did.

I drove away feeling lighter and grateful that our city has such a service. My home is cleaner and ready for further projects. However I was also sobered by the huge masses of waste, some of which could have been re-used. It was fascinating to see the process of disposing of discarded items. I could see the areas devoted to green waste processing and recycling. There was a section for chemical disposal. It is good for me to see this side of civilization which is usually hidden from view. I am newly reminded to be mindful about the quantities of waste that I produce. That pile was huge. I want to contribute to it as little as possible.

I showered off the psychic residue of having been to the dump, then Kiki and I headed to the BYU Museum of Art. She had a homework assignment to visit a gallery. The first exhibit seemed to fit right in with the trip of the morning. The theme of the exhibit was books as objects. One art piece was a twenty foot high and twenty foot wide cube of books stacked overlapping almost to the ceiling. All of the spines were inward so that only the pages could be seen. Another was a video of books being dissolved to pulp in a commercial washing machine. Books as objects is not a theme which makes me happy. I don’t like to view books think thoughts about wastefulness. I much prefer to hold a book and see the artistry both in the physical construction and the way that words have been intentionally spun to contain meanings. Fortunately the remaining exhibits in the museum were much less nihilistic.

I found myself standing in front of Bierstadt’s Seal Rock.

It was twenty years ago when I last stood in front of this painting. I was a college freshman at home for a visit. There was a whole exhibit of Bierstadt and I walked slowly past them all, but Seal Rock was the one that called to me most. I marveled at the way he captured sunlight refracted through the wave. The painting was bigger in my memory. Perhaps because so many of Bierstadt’s other works are on a giant scale. Today I stepped close to the painting and looked at the textures of paint used for the sea foam. A few steps away I spent some time staring into the painted eyes of a young Bostonian from 1739. I wondered what this young man thought while his portrait was painted. The painting was over three hundred years old and still hung for people to see and admire. The opposite of waste.

As I walked through the museum I was aware of the people around me. Mostly I noticed them as disturbances in my thinking space. I like my pools of thought to be undisturbed as I seek to examine my reactions to art. However the people were also interesting. Many were parents who had elected to bring their young children. I could not tell if the children were present to expose them to art or if they were just along for lack of babysitting. Art museums are not aimed to engage youngsters, though they can still benefit if the adult in charge is willing to be an informational bridge. I saw mostly hauling, not bridging. People sat rubbing sore feet. Students with clipboards went from painting to painting, filling out worksheets for an assignment. Some groups spoke quietly about the pictures they were viewing. Some spoke of other things entirely while glancing at pictures as they walked past. A few quiet people stood for a long time before a piece. Kiki sat and sketched for a bit. All of these people had come to the museum today, each of them took home a completely different experience.

The day was wrapped up by viewing my favorite category of art; when an artist takes something old, useless, or ugly, then transforms it into something beautiful. Such creations are the opposite of the waste transfer station. In this case the art manifested as quilts. Sometimes quilts are planned whole from new materials and are completely stunning. The ones that really tugged at my heart were the quilts which were obviously made from re-purposed materials. I stood next to one quilt and looked at the individual pieces. The fabrics had stories and my mind tried to picture them.

By this time Kiki was tired. Apparently the teenage art student has less patience for museums than does the aging humanities major. However we could not leave without stopping by the gift shop. It contained an exhibition of fine-art-inspired consumerism. This was the place where child focused objects were omnipresent; each urging parents to buy culture for their children. I noted all the toys without much interest, when my kids were younger I would have been tempted. Instead I was drawn to the rack with many beautiful notebooks and journals. I also discovered that museum gift shops are an excellent source for note cards. I resisted temptation, until we spotted the tiny jewel faceted spider ear rings in the Halloween display. They were adorable and priced to sell.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home, as I walked down the aisles I was surrounded by packages and materials which would mostly be transformed into garbage for the dump. Yet there was also the possibility that these same things could be used in the creation of art. It was a distracting train of thought, which I had to shake off so that I could focus on buying the foods our family needs. Food and family are themselves worthy creations. I guess I’ll have to be content if the sum total of my efforts creates more beauty than waste.