Yesterday I went to opening night for Krannert Art Museum. It was a nice enough affair, with a good turnout of people, catered food, a lively band playing, and lots of newer art work on display. While all of that was quite nice, I prefer the older items in the collection. Some of the Egyptian pieces in the basement were 3,000 - 4,000 years old. The paintings in the curved gallery at the north end of the museum were marvelous.
Looking at paintings from hundreds of years ago, featuring people (adults, men, women and children), going about their daily lives, was quite emotional for me. Some of the works were fairly straightforward: a nobleman posing for a rather boring rendering of himself. Others, like the one set in a darkened room from the 1600s, of a woman paying her servant while holding her baby, really stood out as the closest thing they had to a camera at that time.
The faces of the long dead, staring out at us, their lives now over, are a gentle reminder to all those since who have gazed upon their countenance that our time here is brief. There was a vast stretch of existence that never included our individual selves and, in a few decades, that time will come again. The paintings hanging in the Krannert Art Museum, along with all the other museums and homes across the world, are reminders that the people featured in them -- as well as the artists, themselves -- were here.
I wondered last night, as I stopped and took-in one of the paintings, if any of my atoms were composed of those who were in the paintings. I remember reading somewhere that our atoms are reused. That, as we go through the process of life and death, the atoms eventually scatter and, sometimes, come back around and help form other things. That's pretty amazing, if true.
So, we live on, in works of art and reconstituted atoms. I didn't see any non-white folks in the paintings at the museum, but I know they were there. What were their lives like? What sorts of relationships did they have? What did they think about when they put head-to-pillow at night? What was important to them before time ran out and their bodies stopped functioning?
We probably have a lot more in common with those who came before us than we sometimes think.