I was very lucky to recently have an amazing holiday weekend in New York City. Although it was only a few days, we had been to the city before, and knew we could pack a lot in with a trusty pair of shoes.
New York is a big, bustling city of over 8 million people. Compared to Canmore, Alberta with a population of 12,000 permanent residents (and 5,900 non-permanent), it represents quite a change for us.
But, my husband and I love big cities and often take holidays in these magnificent centers because it gets us out of our routine, and lets us have access to fabulous art, food and culture. This trip to New York was no different, as we ate our way through the many street carts and restaurants, and spent the majority of our time enjoying museums and beautiful public places.
I had some Canmore people look at me in a puzzled way when I mentioned we were going to New York for the weekend. “Why New York?” they asked. On one level, I understand the question: we live in a very natural and beautiful mountain environment, and New York is far from that with its horn-honking, crowded streets and overwhelmingly tall concrete buildings.
But, if you’ve ever been to New York, you get it. Despite its size, and the fact that it is a popular tourist destination, it is amazingly beautiful. Everywhere you turn, you see stunning public art. The lobbies of business towers display murals, mosaics and original art that you would normally expect in a museum. The outsides of the buildings and brownstones have gorgeous detailing and intricate brick, plaster and iron work, just because.
I was – as always – thrilled with the free art and beautiful architecture that surrounds you everywhere, just walking up the street. Not to mention the museums!
As an artist, I am a beauty addict. So, I was delighted to see a city that was intensely modern, yet had so many gorgeous old buildings preserved and celebrated. Here in Western Canada, we often don’t cherish our structural history, and instead tear down old buildings for the modern boxes of the current culture. Unfortunately, we tend to lose the beautiful in the pursuit of the modern push towards progress.
I was listening to an archived podcast with Robert Bateman, a Canadian naturalist and painter born in Toronto, who is one of Canada’s advocates for conservation and the natural world. It was on “Tapestry” a wonderful CBC radio show I love, with one of the most engaging radio interviewers on the waves today, Mary Hynes.
The show was titled “Art & Soul”, and originally aired on December 26, 2010. Mary and Robert got talking about the importance of beauty in our lives, not only in natural settings, but in our manufactured spaces. I am including this clip because it speaks to what New York has seemed to avoid. New York is a decidedly urban place, but it still showcases beauty in a remarkable way.
MH: What do you think would happen, if you, Robert Bateman, sat down and painted an industrial park, or a motorway, or a concrete slab of a building?
RB: I love Toronto … I grew up in Toronto, and Old Toronto is just wonderful … It’s full of color, character, and richness. Now, a shopping mall is different from the brickworks in the Don Valley. That’s a fantastic subject for painting or photography. I don’t feel downhearted when I see that, like I do in a shopping mall.
MH: The mall has come up a couple of times. It’s interesting what you say about a place like a character-filled back alley in the city or the beautiful old brick works displayed by the Don River and Don Valley. What is the distinction between that and the mall? Why is the mall so offensive?
RB: I call modern malls the instant pudding world. We have been busily destroying our natural heritage and human heritage with a vengeance since the 1950s. So, if you love to say goodbye, then you’re living in the best time in the history of the planet because it’s “say goodbye time” … and it’s intensified. But it’s not being replaced with nothing; it’s being replaced with instant pudding. It’s sweet, smooth, slick, extremely convenient … you have nothing to do with the ingredients … and I’m using this as a metaphor for suburbs, plazas and throughways. It’s all manufactured by somebody else, somewhere else, who doesn’t know you. And, I think it’s a deadly thing that’s spreading over the planet … It’s automated and heartless, and not human at all.
MH: What do you think that does to the human being, to the human spirit, to the soul? What happens to the soul in that environment?
RB: Well, I think it’s soul destroying.
So, hats off to New York City for preserving buildings, spaces and art that contributes to our sense of place and beauty. Please enjoy these images from our recent trip, and I hope that I can give you a tiny taste of what a city with memory and a respect for beauty can do for the human soul.