A few years ago I went to an exhibit at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. I deeply resonated with the artist’s work, and I decided to contact him. Rather than interpret his work for myself, I thought it would be interesting to develop an interpretation of the art through dialogue with the artist. While I had ideas about what his sculpture meant, I knew that encountering the man himself would deepen my understanding of his art.
After emailing him and waiting a few days, I was surprised to see a response in my inbox. It turns out he was willing to meet and was interested in our conversation. A week later, we walked through the Huntington together past the desert gardens and sat under a tree in the middle of a field. At the point where our small talk started to wind down, and before I could say a word about his art, he asked me,
“So what are your filters here? How do you see the world? I find it always better to get it on the table, because then we know where we are and can have a real conversation.”
I was surprised at his question, and after we discussed our starting points what unfolded over the next few hours was rich conversation about religion, violence, and art and an invitation to have dinner with him and his wife at their mountain studio (how do you say “no” to that?). What had started as an exercise in interpretation had blossomed into real conversation—all because we were both willing to be frank about our beliefs and open to one another’s experience.
Leaving the library my new artist friend's openness had made just as strong an impression on me as his art. A month later, I spent the weekend at their cabin. He gave me a tour of the studio, I held works in progress, and we continued our conversation over a good meal. Late into the evening, as we were discussing art criticism surrounded by books and a warm fireplace, it dawned on me: I wasn’t a stranger—I was his honored house guest.
Looking back now, I know that the road to this room was important: being open to others changed a routine museum visit into a much richer experience, and I now want to have that same kind of radical openness and curiosity with others. And the truth is we don’t need a trip to an art museum to see the strangers around us with new eyes. If we could only put aside the filters that constrict our world, we would see standing before us honored house guests, people with stories mapped by the same scars and longings we carry in our own hearts ready to be discovered if we would only ask.