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Looking at people, looking at art

April 24, 2022 | 7:30pm EDT

A few weekends ago, I visited the digital art installation Pixelbloom, which aims to celebrate DC’s signature spring cherry blossoms. The minute I entered the main gallery, I was bombarded with a multisensory experience of bright color, moving graphics, and an instrumental soundtrack that seemed to wash over my body like a wave. Initially, walking across the gallery felt disorienting, like any minute I was going to trip over one of the animated branches and fall face-first into a giant tree just under my feet.

Following the lead of almost everyone else, we made our way to an empty spot near a wall and lay on our backs, letting ourselves float through the flowers. In front of us, bright turquoise, pink, and purple petals swirled into abstract formations, like schools of fish swimming through the ocean. Then, dark brown branches lined with green buds and deep purple and lilac blossoms lined the walls. Cherry blossoms spun open and closed, quickly blooming then whizzing away, only to be replaced by another, even more beautiful image. After the shock of the scale and speed of Pixelbloom wore off and my eyes could unglue from the sea of pink surrounding me, I was able to look around at the other people enjoying the exhibition. Being an observer is always something that has come naturally to me, especially in public spaces with big crowds. I love noticing the small things that others don’t. Sometimes I point them out, but most of the time, the moments are so small that even a few seconds later they’re lost forever. Like a hesitant arm finally being placed around a pair of shoulders. Or the instant joy that comes with taking the first sip of a cup of coffee. Or even just the smiles plastered onto everyone’s faces on that first warm sunny spring day on campus.

I watched as a small boy spun in endless circles, his eyes shining and a look of awe on his face. Then, his older sister, a little hesitant at first, began to spin and laugh as well. A couple lay on the opposite side of the room, transfixed, in the exact same position: one leg bent and one extended straight out, arms folded over their chests. Another couple, directly across from us, leaned against the wall, heads on each other’s shoulders. A young girl in a princess costume did snow angels on the ground, as her father watched on. Walking across the gallery almost in a trance, I watched a little boy tripping over his feet as he turned his head to stare at the swirling blooms.

Sometimes, watching other people experience the art around you is even more meaningful than the art itself. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s constantly reliant on the interpretations and reactions of those who view and consume it. It’s being at a concert and taking a break from screaming the lyrics to turn around and look at the dozens of people squished around you, clapping and jumping and bobbing their heads, the music taking over their bodies. You realize how much power music has, and how listening to it is such a communal experience. Or watching the way people laugh at a joke in a movie, their faces illuminated only by the light from the screen.

Next time you go to a museum or a concert or even just a bookshop or a cafe where people are reading or listening to music, take the time to look at the people around you. Try to notice something new, push yourself to explore the world right from where you’re standing or sitting. Take a snapshot in your mind of each of these moments and you’ll always have them as memories to carry with you. A lot of the time, someone else’s enjoyment of art is all you need to bring happiness into your own day.

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