“The message of the flower is the flower. Beauty was not planted in the world by God, but discovered there by people…. Most of the time our lives are organize by our everyday concerns, but every now and then we find ourselves jolted out of our complacency in the presence of something vastly more important than our immediate desires, something not of this world.” — Roger Scuton
It’s not often that one can witness another human being discovering “Beauty.” I’ve been fortunate to observe it once in Amsterdam. I was there with one of my oldest friends along with a few other reprobates in from the States. We were not exactly “on a mission from God.” No. It was the mid-1990s and we were there as judges in the annual High Times Magazine’s Cannabis Cup. The Cannabis Cup is, to make a long story very short, the Oscars of Weed.
As a “judge” one had the overwhelming task of sampling about 70 different strains of hand-crafted, artisinal, local, and (more or less) organic marijuana and hashish to determine which strain said in the most assertive way, “May the baby Jesus open your mind and shut your mouth.” How were we to do this? The Cannabis Cup officials didn’t say. They just issued us our credentials on the top floor of the headquarters of the Communist Party Headquarters of Amsterdam, handed us a souvenir notebook and pen and said, “Good luck.”
The cannabis competition was, to say the least, challenging. Even in the mid-1990s customized cannabis cultivation in the hydroponic grow tanks of Amsterdam produced an herb which took only two or three hits to erase your afternoon. Getting through all 70 would be like climbing the Everest of Chronic without oxygen. One particular strain we sampled was so potent I found myself superglued to the couch in the hotel suite watching my friend paste together one cigarette paper after another until he was in a position to actually roll, among many other bizarre objects, an entire orange (And I don’t mean tangerine). Clearly we needed a break from our duties as judges.
The next morning we declared a mini-rehab day free from the testing of various buds, hash blocks, and Thai sticks. Instead we took off for the Rembrandt and Friends Clubhouse AKA the Rijksmuseum.
For a viper my friend is an extremely practical kind of man. He likes bull markets, fashion models, fast cars, and sleek yachts in the Bahamas. He is also not the sort to take to classical art in any kind of structured way.You won’t catch him in a bow tie and pince-nez evaluating The Night Watch as art, but wondering instead why somebody had to saw off a few feet of it. But on this day our need to clear our heads was the primary goal so we found ourselves strolling down the main avenue at the museum with galleries containing Dutch Masters opening on both sides. Suddenly I noticed that my friend wasn’t keeping up. Turning back I found him dumbstruck in front of one of the many still lifes in the museum’s holdings. He was standing so close he risked tipping forward into the canvas.The guards were looking a bit tense.
“You know,” he said, “I’ve never really understood why everybody was so fascinated by art but this painting just gets to me. Look at it. Look at the detail that the artist makes by just a few touches of color here and there. When you get right up to it you can see the brushwork, but even a couple of feet away and it all just flows together. Look at that, that glass. You not only see the glass and the water in the glass, you see the reflection of the window behind the painter in the glass. And then you see th e reflection of that reflection in the water painted in the glass. And then you see that the reflection in the water is painted with just the right degree of refraction. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. Look. Look at that detail. How does anybody do that?”
Fast forward give or take twenty years.
I’m talking to my old friend on the phone and somehow got around to the ancient trip to Amsterdam and the Cannabis Cup. There were plenty of things that we managed to remember from that excursion but my friend’s favorite memory was of the obscure painting whose details opened up the world of art to his understanding. “Do you remember that painting? Do you remember the details?”
The effect of the painting was as if a new star flashed into existence inside his soul. And the power of the painting was in its beauty which was made from that singular quality that lead many to say, “God is in the details.”
Here’s another example from the same period. Is the hand of God glimpsed in these details of an artifact made by the hand of man? You tell me:
All details of this painting.
Portrait of a Young Woman, 1632, Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy. Dutch. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 54.PB.3.