Thursday, January 8, 2009

Struggling with the impulse to buy

I rose early this morning, awakened by concerns for my younger daughter, who is stranded in Portland because flooding and mudslides have blocked the roads and train tracks between that city and Seattle. And when I went looking for images for today's post, it was this one -- of a necklace she fell in love with in Venice two years ago -- which popped out at me.

The necklace sat in a store window facing the Piazza San Marco, so we saw it almost every day as we walked by. It was ridiculously expensive -- thousands of dollars -- so there was no chance of our ever purchasing it. But that didn't change her reaction to it; she actually mentioned it again a few days ago, it was such a memorable experience.

Though I see the magnificence of the work, the piece doesn't call to me, but I certainly know how it feels to be drawn to something in that way. It is often true that this tendency is particularly strong just after Christmas -- a sort of residue of the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, I suppose. And in fact, just yesterday I went to visit a friend's art exhibit and that acquisitional lust hit me: I fell madly, desperately in love with one of her paintings. Unfortunately she doesn't want to sell this piece so she has set the price ridiculously high. I told her I'd buy it anyway, or work out some sort of co-ownership deal with her, but she's still not sure she can bear to part with it.

I don't think this is some sort of delayed manifestation of the Christmas buying frenzy, but the price is roughly equivalent to a Buddha statue I've been trying to talk myself out of purchasing for almost two years now -- and seriously considered suggesting as a Christmas present for myself -- so maybe it's connected. But the whole thing -- both the Buddha statue and my friend's painting -- seems pretty irrational: these are NOT things I need (I have other, smaller buddha statues, and no real place to put this one; I also have a house full of artwork, though there's a space on my office wall that would be a perfect fit for my friend's painting). What is it, this odd longing that comes over us sometimes, for things we can neither use nor afford?

I'm not quite sure I understand the allure of my buddha statue or my friend's painting. I could intellectualize it -- the buddha displays a calm that I find inspirational; the painting represents the moment after her divorce when my friend rediscovered hope and joy -- but the call to purchase seems to go deeper than that. The last time I felt it that strongly was five years ago, the FIRST time I went to Venice, and the piece I fell in love with and brought home still serves as a focus for my meditation practice, so I have no regrets about its purchase.

I guess what I struggle with here is another should: we should not "buy stuff;" any extra money we have should go to charity, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, provide rest for the weary. So it's hard to believe that God could have any part in a message that says "buy this." Although in cases like this -- one-of-a-kind works of art -- perhaps the point is to support the artist in her attempts to manifest the Creative Spirit in her life.

Maybe I'll just go back and photograph that picture -- as I did this necklace -- she'll probably want me to do that anyway. And then, at the very least, I can show it here: it really is a triumphant declaration that God can move us through pain and suffering and into a hope so suffused with joy that it sings right off the canvas.

No comments: