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Lasting Impressions: Finding Solace in a Gallery

“I’ve never seen so many paintings in my life” were the exact words my disgruntled and fed-up father uttered on a trip to the National Gallery in August this year. It is fair to say my mother and I learnt our lesson and vowed never to take him to an art gallery again—it wasn’t worth the moaning nor the embarrassment.

But I believe it to be very telling how art can affect us emotionally; for my father it was a feeling of fatigue, for me it was solace. It is these canvases that soothe oneself and allow us to find a deeper meaning of ourselves (as corny as that may sound). As you stare back at those piercing glares and form a mental conversation with aristocrats, martyrs, beggars and deities alike, a collective feeling of sheer relaxation consumes us as we stand at the conjuncture of two worlds.

For some, galleries are just too quiet; visitors collectively lower their volume, so the art speaks for itself, muting the uneducated utterance against the work of Michelangelo. However, finding tranquillity in a gallery is not a task that is achieved through the so-called peace of the room: it is the peace that rests within our heads that allows art to fully impact us. If we have fruitful conversations which analyse the strokes, the colours and the symbolism, we allow the art to inflict upon our thoughts and judgements. That does go without saying that the quietness of galleries in which we tiptoe across the wooden floors, frightened for them to creak, does indeed give us a perfect escape from reality.

In an article by the National Gallery of Canada, Laura Marks, professor of media arts and philosophy at Simon Fraser University, stated, “Art is good at teaching us to pay attention to what is in front of us. That gives us better awareness, so that when we do start to have thoughts, they’re better grounded.” Therefore, art’s ability to level us and develop our cognitive skills gives way to the argument that galleries are much more than “houses of art”: they are churches of sanctity and sensations. Furthermore, studies have shown that when we see art which we find appealing or beautiful, dopamine is released in the brain which makes us feel pleasure. We feel love for art.

Within St Andrews, one might think that we are less exposed to art than that of other students across the country, with the likes of Glasgow’s Kelvingrove, Edinburgh’s countless galleries, and the V&A across the water. But here in St Andrews, we have numerous private galleries, such as the Sproson and Fraser galleries which showcase the talents of local artists and which face no inability in providing us a gateway to mindfulness. Even within the University’s newly renovated Wardlaw Museum, it was not a challenge to observe the collections and feel an air of calmness and solitude. This is further achieved by the open-air view of the West Sands on the top floor, which gives visitors the opportunity to reflect upon the artefacts and art they’ve just witnessed.

From the unblended calming tones of impressionists like Claude Monet to the fierce grandeur for my father it was a feeling of fatigue, for me it was solace “ “ Van Gogh to a gallery and release yourself (sorry not sorry) “ “ of Raphael, there is a peace, sanctity and solace to be found in all forms and movements. Whether it be online or in person, Van Gogh to a gallery and release yourself (sorry not sorry).

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