The art of happiness

Why making time for culture - whether it's visiting Van Gogh's Starry Night or stopping in at a random gallery opening - makes me happy.

I recently spent a couple of days in New York and Miami, and it was mostly a flurry of friends and food – with no shortage of red wine and bourbon. Too often when I travel to visit friends, I get so hung up on over-scheduling myself into dinners and brunches, afternoon coffees and late night nightcaps, that I forget to actually engage with the place that I’m visiting, instead treating it like one big bistro. By the time I wake up on my last day in town, no doubt groggy and wishing I had bothered to wash my face when I finally got home the evening (or early morning) prior, I look around and think, “Oh, yeah – culture. I should do that.”

Just as at home, it’s easy to start taking a place you visit often for granted. I find it very easy to slip into a routine wherever I go, quickly settling on favourite restaurants and cafes – even whole city blocks or patches of grass in certain parks that I like to return to again and again. And so, on my last trip, I asked around in advance and made sure to earmark a couple of new places: Miami’s Rubell Family Collection and New York’s New Museum, both of which have contemporary collections in beautifully renovated, open, modern spaces. The Rubell was full of sexually charged video installations and neon accented sculptural works. The New Museum’s current exhibit includes a space full of colourful venetian blinds and a darkened room with household objects (a toaster, a bottle of bleach) conversing with one another in sing-song English accents. It was all wonderful.

Seeing art gives me an interesting sense of accomplishment – on par with going to the gym or successfully eating leafy green vegetables. I enjoy it and I know it’s good for me, and I’m always trying to do it more. It’s amazing to see all of those expressions, what people choose to communicate and all of the innovative ways they find to do it. My last night in New York, my friends and I bundled up and braved the elements, hitting an art opening for an acquaintance on the Lower East Side. The work included giant images of sparkling diamond rings that were projected alongside oversize real love letters that had been sent to the artist over the last 15 or so years; some were heartbreaking or sweet and others wincingly raw. It was a juxtaposition of idealized and actual love. And as we huddled in that warehouse space, with our coats kept on and shooting irritated glances at the door every time someone opened it, a few of us stinging from recent breakups or compulsively checking for texts from still-ambiguous prospects, I was reminded of how happy it makes me to occasionally take a break from my eating schedule to soak up some culture.