I have always been fascinated by the concept of epiphanies – sudden insights into the reality or essential meaning of something, typically initiated by a commonplace occurrence. This is partly because I love the process of learning itself, but mostly it’s because there are few feelings comparable to the one I get immediately following an epiphany.
There is something about an instantaneous moment of clarity that is simultaneously calming, inspiring, and intensely empowering. It is a shame we can’t will such moments into existence, but then again, that’s what makes them so special to begin with. In New York City, if you pay enough attention to your surroundings, you can come pretty close to inducing the sensation that accompanies an epiphany. What I have found to be more effective, though, is to temporarily leave the place.
I recently spent a week exploring the Pacific Northwest – a region with which I had been previously unfamiliar yet always had a desire to see. If you have never been to Vancouver, this is the part where I tell you that you absolutely must go. And if you’ve ever been curious to check out a place called Seattle, this is the part where I tell you it’s not worth your time.
I am not sure whether it was its drastic cultural opposition to angelic Vancouver, or simply the fact that its charm was less overt [hello, aliveasart], there was something so utterly unimpressive about Seattle – at one point, I remember thinking, ‘this must be how strangers feel when they visit my dear hometown, Houston.’
For me, Seattle was a major letdown, but as with most disappointments in life, it did have a silver lining – Chihuly Garden and Glass. Ever since I visited the glass blowing mecca that is Venice in 2005, I have been a fan of Dale Chihuly. I have always admired the man’s work from afar, but in person, it literally blew me away.
What I find most impressive about Chihuly is his distinctive yet highly versatile aesthetic. His pieces are pretty easy to identify, but they share only very subtle design elements. This is a fairly difficult skill for artists to master, and, interestingly, I think Chihuly did it by accident.
In 1976, Chihuly was involved in a head-on collision, during which he flew through a car windshield. His face was severely damaged by the glass, and ultimately he lost sight in his left eye. Mind over matter, he continued to blow glass until he dislocated a shoulder in a 1979 bodysurfing accident. It was at that turning point when Chihuly began to hire others to bring his visions to life.
One would think that the physical inability to create would be emotionally crippling for an artist, but that seems not to be the case for Chihuly. In reference to his now role as a choreographer amongst a troupe of glass-blowers, he admits that “once [he] stepped back, [he actually] liked the view.”
I could never imagine what it took for Chihuly to arrive at that little nugget of clarity, but after seeing his work up close, I can say he did something spectacular upon reaching it. This is by no means an endorsement for the city of Seattle, but should you ever find yourself there do pay a visit to Chihuly’s gallery.
Not every thought we have can be noticeably life changing – sometimes witnessing the outcome of another’s epiphanies can be just as impactful as experiencing the real thing.