Please do not touch the works of art

donottouchworksofart

Don’t touch the art. If you’ve grown up like I did in a place so bereft of history or art that random detritus of the past was cordoned off for whispered reverence, such warnings are unnecessary. Manufactured sanctities may have little value in themselves, but they are wonderful instructors in the disciplines of awe. The people who need the warnings, I suppose, are those who grew up with no sanctities at all, or the ones surrounded by so many they quickly learned you can’t give everything the reverence it is due.

I once saw tourists piled atop the Rosetta Stone for a snap and like Jesus I was tempted to fashion a scourge and drive them out. The guards at the British Museum felt otherwise. When your biggest challenge is figuring out where to crate and store your superfluous antiquities, you see matters in a different light. The last thing on their minds, I suppose, was how to flay the customers. That stone is more than a treasure, it’s a draw.

Creative people face a similar dilemma. We crave reverence for the work of our hands. We want it up on pedestals, an object of veneration to be approached with awe. At the same time, if you want to keep creating, you need some tourists to climb aboard your Rosetta Stone. This too, you come to realize, is an expression of awe, and perhaps a better one. Reserve worship for the things that truly deserve it, and let your work be put to good use.

Don’t touch the art, the museum admonishes, because touching may do damage. But some things stand up to the touch, and even invite it. And it isn’t true — noli me tangere notwithstanding — that there can be no reverence in touch. Taste and see. Put your hand in the wounds. Touch can be the highest form of reverence for the highest form of things worthy to receive reverence.

2 responses

  1. Mark Strobel says:

    A brief essay on the accessibility of art doubles as a theology of incarnation. Very nice. Thanks.

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