Art wakes us up to the world

Sculpture by Monmouth College Professor of Ceramics, Janis Mars Wunderlich

Just about every day I walk by McMichael Academic Building on our college’s campus where the art program is housed. Typically, I am running late for a meeting, racing to beat the chimes tolling on the top of Wallace Hall with my nose pressed to my smartphone to make sure I don’t miss a single email or message via Facebook. Like my students, I have gotten very good at race walking while scrolling through my feed. But as I fly past McMike, something in the grass outside that building catches my attention. I remove my nose from my digital device to look and I see what appears to be a large, yellow plaster snake sitting in the grass. It’s not a scary snake. It has a little smile or smirk on its face and a cute little mosaic of pebbles running down its back. But it makes me pause. What is this? Now I’m late for my meeting, but I am curious. What does this mean?

Crazy art appears outside of McMike like this often. Red and blue solo cups emerge from and circle around the windows. Yarn bombs explode and knit the trees in colorful little sweaters. Bike parts are welded together and assembled into a new and curious sculpture. These displays always make me stop and recalibrate my trip across campus. They take me out of my self-absorbed, smartphone existence to reconsider the space I am in. Art does that. It wakes us up to the world and can even change how we move through it.

I don’t want to go through life unawake and unaware. So I befriend artists—poets, creative writers, musicians, visual artists—who have the ability to see and sense and notice the world better than me. Artists help me see the sacred vitality of every thing and every one. Like the poet Mary Oliver, who writes:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be


[1] “Messenger” by Mary Oliver from her book of poems entitled, Thirst.