Is Art a Question or an Answer?

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My daughter Julie had returned from a day trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston bearing a postcard from the gift shop. The postcard depicted an 1897 painting by Paul Gauguin. The painting was Gauguin's attempt  - his self-described finest work - to capture the existential questions that have been asked since the beginning of time: "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?"

On the back, Julie had inscribed a message to her best friend from college - a remarkable story-inside-a-story told in just 20 short lines. It read: 

Dear Ally,

When I bought this card at the MFA today, the woman who was my cashier put it aside to tell Chris and I a story. Earlier that same day, a man took a bus all the way from Canada to Boston just to see this particular painting by Gauguin. It was something he'd wanted to do since he was 16. He sat in front of the piece and sobbed for a long time, then went to the bookstore and bought this postcard before getting on a bus to go home to Canada. She shook her head in amazement, and told us, "The way way we measure meaning gives us pause to think." 

The postcard continued.
"Ever since, I haven't been able to stop looking at this painting, wondering what this man must also have been asking..."Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? I don't think we'll ever know the answers, but it's nice to not be the only ones asking these questions. 
Love, me.

I put down the postcard, overwhelmed with the beauty and fragility and vulnerability and hope on this tiny rectangle of paper. A brief, epic tale told about art and love, and meaning-making, and asking the questions of what it means to be human. And then I remembered the Q Card I wrote last year asking "Is art a question or an answer?" And I knew unequivocally that the answer is - both.   



Debra Walsh