We were watching a documentary on TV the other night about sacred places, and the narrator, in trying to define them, or have us understand the concept, said that each of those sites to be examined was “a place that, by simply being there, we are changed.” Strangled sentence structure aside, there was something else about that statement that bothered us: We think it’s wrong.
In our arslocii quest, what we have discovered – or happened to learn, that is; we are surely not the first to realize this – is that when you come upon a location that is sacred or spiritual, or, as in our case, is art or contains a placeness that is art, and you are affected by it, it is not because you are changed but rather because you recognize yourself in it: not changed but found. It is not so much that these places speak to us, as the phrase goes; it is that we speak to ourselves, in intimate tones only we know how to make or understand. Being in or looking at the place, or a portion of the place, does not add to us so much as it uncovers an aspect of us already within us – it flicks a switch that activates a dormant part of us, or one that hasn’t been paying much attention, and awakens it as if from a dream, or focuses it. And we say to ourselves not “how unusual” but “I know this – this is me.” The place makes you not different but more yourself than you knew you could be.
And this, then, offers a train of thought that leads to or suggests that what captivates us about a place – that engenders in us a sense of placeness – is not a critical analysis, or aesthetics, or even history. What it is about is empathy; that empathy — the ability to feel an other through identifying with it – might be at the heart of not only appreciation of art and place but the creation of them, as well.
When we are in a place, or look at a work of art, and it leaves us cold though it be beautiful, it is not because we say to ourselves, “This is uninteresting,” but rather that it does not already live within us – not so much mirror us, or be created in our image, but reflect our reflections, spark our recognition, be the sound sent to us that strikes off our soul and then echoes back, and back again. Not a dialogue, not a soliloquy, but more like a duet. Like turning a corner and seeing someone you know is your twin, or soul mate – someone who was always there, you’d just never met face to face.
Experiencing placeness as art, then, is not anything that has changed you but, instead, is an awareness of fulfillment, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle (that is your heart and mind) moved from the pile to its position within the evolving picture. Art is not something you look at; art lives inside you, waiting for those wondrous moments when it finds a calm, deep pool, and looking in looks back.