It was a cold winter evening when my future husband and I went to the Met with our figure drawing class. The night was brisk, but inside the museum's Great Hall, the air was thick and warm. Our assignment was to make a drawing of a figurative sculpture. For three hours, we sat on the museum floor, looking at a dancing, sandstone Asian deity, making fairly bad, but extremely satisfying charcoal drawings of her. We observed the thousand beads of her headdress, the wild curves of her breasts. We noted the shadows at her neckline, how the light hit her crescent-moon eyelids. We sat still as we drew, said nothing; something hallowed was transpiring and we dared not speak of it. We left the museum happy and full. If my mental faculties ever fail me, the memory of that sculpture will be the last to go.
Our subsequent visits to the Met have been markedly different. We enter, children in tow, determined to see everything. We study the museum map and chart a path. We move from Velasquez to de Goya, from Picasso to the ancient Egyptians. We walk and we walk. We see Roman artifacts, the Rodin sculpture garden, African totem poles, Dutch still lifes. We look at textiles, coins, tea sets, amphoras, armor. We point and we talk. When one of us says something clever, we nod, and move to the next image. We press on. There is still much to see.
Soon enough, our feet begin to throb. We become hungry, and then irritable. Some in our party want to leave; one of our children flops down onto the floor and begins to cry. I eye my husband in exasperation; I told you it was time to go. On the drive home, I try to remember what I have seen, to name a favorite image, but am dismayed by the blank I draw.
In life and online, images roll by, one after another. But it is only when we stop and really look that we see.