By Dr. Jim Ferguson

If you’re not careful, you will miss the beauty in the world that is right beside you. Lately, due to the daily drumbeat of  hatred from the media, the alt-left, alt-right and some in between, I have found it difficult to remain positive and hopeful for our country. I feel it is my civic duty to stay informed and engaged, but sometimes I find it necessary to temporarily retreat from the insanity for my soul’s sake.

Being semi-retired you might think I have more time for writing and reflection. Actually, my days are packed and my “do list” fills up before the 2nd cup of coffee each morning. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got anything done when I was working full-time. When my contractor dropped by to check on things, he found me digging holes for shrubs. I told him I’ve been thinking about going back to full-time medical practice so I can get some rest.

A recent family wedding was an occasion for an extra hour or so to myself because my wife was helping the wedding director with last-minute details. Of course everything went fine, but I feel for families who are under such pressure to put their best foot forward at weddings. No wonder that some people just run away and get married rather than submit themselves to the social gauntlet.

A friend of mine has repeatedly recommended that I visit the Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA). So with time on my hands, I did. Years ago I served as a docent at the museum, giving tours and explaining artwork. However, it had been some time since I was inside, though not infrequently I have driven by the beautiful KMA building, an architectural gem in our community.

Now, before my critics start to whine, I admit I am not a highly trained art historian. However, I ascribe to what I call the Count Basie philosophy. Namely, “If it sounds good, it is.” And Ferguson’s corollary to Basie’s musical aphorism is, “If it looks good, it is.” In other words, don’t let anyone tell you what is good or what is beautiful. If you don’t like something or if you find something beautiful have the courage of conviction to say so. I admit that I detest kale. But, I find the Knoxville Museum of Art beautiful and full of treasures.

You enter the KMA interior space on the middle of three floors. The museum displays its permanent collection as well as varied other exhibits. I believe the more you know about something the more you can appreciate it. (I actually hated coffee when I first tried it.) At one time in my life I found the paintings of the Dutch school, such as those by Vermeer, especially engaging. Then as my appreciation and taste evolved, I was struck by the 19th century impressionists who tried to capture on canvas fleeting elements of light. I admire Knoxville’s own impressionist, Kathryn Wiley, showcased at the KMA, who has a lovely palette and paints scenes reminiscent of the expatriate impressionist, Mary Cassatt. And I have come to appreciate nonrepresentational abstract art, such as that by Rothko, finding color and form, rather than subject, intriguing.

As I strolled through the museum I came upon the area of sculpture and artistic constructions. Michelangelo is probably most noted for his paintings of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. However, he felt that sculpting was the highest art form and liked to sign his paintings, “Michelangelo, sculptor.” He imagined the form encased within stone and his job was to chip away the extraneous rock to free the figure within.

The first sculpture in the KMA is a larger than life construction of the back of a man’s head entitled Back of Evan #3. It was striking. But more impressive was another figure of a woman, who appeared to be in her 70s, holding a newborn and entitled Madonna and Child. As I studied the incredibly lifelike figure I thought back to the first time that I encountered a street mime on the Rambla in Barcelona, Spain (the same boulevard attacked by Islamic terrorists last week). As I stared and stared at that “frozen man” on the Rambla, I wasn’t prepared for his wink. He scared me to death, and I almost wet my pants.

The KMA has other treasures. As part of the permanent collection the work of former Knoxvillians, Joseph Delaney and Julie Warren Martin, are presented. Though I don’t particularly care for Delaney’s style, I do appreciate him because he was once my patient. And I actually prefer my own Julie Warren Martin sculpture more than the monumental piece at the KMA.

Yes, I’ve been in more famous museums such as the Louvre, the Prado and Washington’s National Museum of Art. However, none of these had a Thorne room collection of miniature dioramas, an art form of which I was unacquainted.

So what should we do in 2017 in the midst of a world in flames and a national crisis of conscience? Should we run away to a monastery or escape to a fantasy world of People magazine and reality TV? There are many examples of monastic escape throughout history. Should we be so tolerant of the surrealistic landscape painted by the media that we abandon our principles and go along to get along? Or perhaps we should take the Hamlet approach and “take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them”?

My emotions have run the gamut. I don’t believe any option is absolute. I believe in civic responsibility of being informed and acting within the rule of law as codified in our republic. At times I am a warrior. At times I retreat to a museum. I retain my principles and remain intolerant of racism, bigotry, Nazis and the tyranny of political correctness that is so destructive.

But, perhaps there’s another choice of action. I find solace and solutions in scripture and prayer and service to others. I find beauty in the wisdom, prose and poetry of the Bible. And as the poet Keats once said,

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

It’s loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness.”