National Gallery

Even though I love art, sometimes I find museums overwhelming. Trying to process–and enjoy–hundreds of works from artists across centuries and continents daunts me. This is all the more true when I have time limitations as I did today at the National Gallery of Art, D.C.

Across the broad collection, my favorites of the day were from the same time period: World War II.

The first, Sidewalk Drawings, a 1943 gouache by Jacob Lawrence, depicts young, black children drawing a house and a sun amidst naval ships, an American flag, and combat imagery.

The second, Milky Way, a 1945 enamel by the Ukrainian-American artist Janet Sobel, sets swirling white lines over jewel tones in a shell-like design.

Together they speak to the desire of the human spirit to find and make beauty in the midst of chaos. The girl on the left in Lawrence’s painting, as well as Sobel, the artist of Milky Way, invoke patterned realities. Can we count on a sunny home? Is our place in the cosmos stable?

Though I distrust seemingly “universal” museum collections and long for beauty to be enjoyed in context, I am confident of one thing. So long as the world awaits shalom, artists will keep trying to work it out in their paintings, and that’s worth seeing.

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