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Dr. Grauer's Column - The Chagall Stained Glass Windows

The Chagall Stained Glass Windows

I had heard of the Chagall stained glass window panels in the Chicago Institute of Art but was drawn so much to the impressionists that I didn’t make any time for this. At the end of my week in Chicago, I snuck away to the Institute a second time, resolved to see these panels, since people continued encouraging me to see them, even though I didn’t care. (By the way, I adore Chagall’s paintings.)

I don’t like doing anything unless I am first, or in front, or beyond the crowd, and so I got to the museum first, power walked to the back of the museum where the panels are, and arrived at a large room with nothing but me and the Chagall.

Chagall stained glass window panel at the Chicago Institute of Art - July 2019

The artwork was depicting the shattering of a life, a culture, a world, and it will always be shattered. 

You can only be devoted to something that can be shattered. I could feel that devotion and the longer I stayed there the more I felt it.

You can only be devoted to something that can be shattered.

Chagall is concerned with a whole life, a whole culture and world, nothing smaller. These are things that cannot be constructed to begin with, they have to be evolved into. So, once shattered, these things cannot be re-constructed. They are gone forever. They can be done over again in a new way, imitative or nouveau… but the language, or the species, or the village, once wiped out, is extinct. (In the case of Chagall, it is small, innocent villages, and an ancient culture, demolished by the pogroms.) It is a horrible thing and the only reason it does not seem horrible is that we rarely even think about it. It is much easier not to think about than to think about. 

Of course, great art and genius are prompts to think about a whole life.

Making matters difficult, nowadays the desire to tune out or bury ourselves in distraction has never been stronger. Many people will walk away from an art work—or a village or a school or a building or a business, with no sense of the heart of it. But people may not be working for those things, so they are easy to walk away from or to just ignore. We cannot turn away from a cause.

Back home, I know we may be fools to hold a prep school up as a cause—I understand that many look to places like this for grades and curriculum standards, and they need these practicalities, but those are temporal. A cause is timeless.

As a school, a cause is community, freedom. Empathy. Creative expression. Connection. These are things that have been shattered and are being so every day in our world and country. They are fragile because they do not appear to be practical. All these things are taken for granted in our speedy, fragmented, distracted lives. “Vision” is often treated as a joke, or as superficial.

We take the greatest causes of our lives so for granted that we do not notice when they are eroding. Once we see situations and communities and biomes like this, know that they are vulnerable, they may be ready to be shattered.

Chagall stained glass window panel at the Chicago Institute of Art - July 2019

I was the first one in the room with this artwork and, almost strangely, no one came in there. Eventually I sat down and leaned against a pillar and just hung out with it for a full hour, alone, and amazed that I had access like this to such a world, just me and Chagall. We’re tight. In Chagall, everything in life exists bathed in deep blue. Chagall was depicting such a rich and far away, alluring world from so many worlds ago and away, and yet he was creating this in my lifetime not even that long ago.

Right next door to the Chagall, the original Chicago Stock Exchange room in all its hardwood and massive stone pillars has been reconstructed as an art piece. It, too, has been shattered—but this depicts none of the devotion I am talking about. That was never a cause. Maybe an obsession.

I am talking about breathlessness, quickened pulse of inspiration, access to what is great or eternal, if we can find it somewhere in no matter how small a thing or action.

 

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Chagall stained glass window panel at the Chicago Institute of Art - July 2019

Chagall stained glass window panel at the Chicago Institute of Art - July 2019

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