Friday, September 5, 2014

After the light goes down

    Earlier this week, my wife and I went to the Denver Botanic Gardens for an event that also gave us the opportunity to see the David Chihuly art installation.  For those unfamiliar with his work, Chihuly “sculpts” in blown glass.  He has exhibited, and has pieces in museums, all over the world.  The installation at the Botanical Gardens has been fabulously received.  I was anxious to see it.
    We arrived just after 6:00pm; it was still daylight (although a bit dim because of overcast skies).  As we walked around the gardens, the lighting was such that we were able to see reflections of some pieces in the ponds.  Other pieces simply were so well-integrated in their setting that they looked both otherworldly and natural at the same time.  The evening wore on, and, between the clouds and the setting sun, darkness descended on the gardens . . . and an (almost) entirely different set of artworks appeared.
    Lit from beneath, above, within, and/or behind, the glass shimmered and shown in ways that couldn’t have been anticipated during the daylight hours.  Objects in the background framed the sculpture in a different way.  In some cases, the individual pieces of art stood on their own as the surrounding plants disappeared.  I was captivated by the change.
    Our visit to the gardens came during Orientation Week here at the University.  As always happens to me during this week-before-classes-begin, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is we do at colleges/universities, what it is that these new students will find.  And, sometimes, in years past, I’ve thought of our educational enterprise as being one of “turning the lights on” so that what was once “dark” or poorly understood might become apparent. What occurred to me last night was that such pre-academic-year reflections were instrumental. That is, the “turning on of the lights” would enable the student to do something different with the information.  And that’s a good thing; If firmly believe it!
    There is, as I realized last evening, possibly something even more.  The change in the light clearly revealed something different about the art.  But there wasn’t anything different that I could DO with what I’d seen.  I could only appreciate it differently.  What changed was not the art, but rather me.  And, maybe that’s what we at the university are really about.  Sure, we’ll teach, explore and analyze facts and data. We’ll seek new ways to put that information to use, hopefully (I would assert) to the betterment of our fellows and our environment.
    At the end of the day/quarter/year/degree, however, may we all be changed.

Chaplain Gary

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