We had talked about it for some time, but finally in the fall of 2012, my wife and I, along with three other members of our family, decided to step out of our comfort zone, venture out from the familiarity of our small village, load onto a tour bus, and hit the highway on a trip to the big city. And by big city, we decided to go truly big, namely the Big Apple, and head east to New York. None of us had ever been there before, and true to our expectations, it turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime.
The trip was long, sleeping on the bus almost impossible, and the schedule kept us busy and tired from start to finish, but we were grateful we were able to see so many things in such a short period of time. Over the course of the next five days, we saw a Broadway musical, made an emotional visit to Ground Zero, took a four-masted schooner trip down the river, and traveled to the top of some of the tallest buildings in the world. We visited cultural centers we had previously only read about, including a visit to Lady Liberty herself, inched our way through the heaviest traffic and greatest hordes of people we had ever seen, and risked frostbite with our appearance on the Today Show (where I shook hands with Al Roker!). All of this was punctuated with exposure to more languages and cultures than I could have imagined existed in one place. We ate in unusual restaurants (including where Harry met Sally), window-shopped in store fronts whose clothes made Kohl’s look like a Dollar Store, saw a Manhattan woman walking her dog, fashionably dressed in an outfit that matched her own, and I lost my favorite pocketknife to a stern and uncompromising guard at a security checkpoint.
By the end of the week, we were exhausted and looking forward to the long trip home. Running behind schedule, our last stop in the city was a shortened visit to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. The building was cavernous, and we were too tired to walk through all of the exhibits, but we felt obligated to be the dutiful tourists and check out at least a few of the exhibits before we left.
I will freely admit it. Much of what I saw exhibited there caused me to shake my head in confusion or disbelief. I know art is supposed to be subjective, but it felt that I was looking at the products of a group of people who had come right out of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Come on, people, seriously! Who decided that these garage sale candidates could be classified as art? Even I could have done that. Even my two-year-old granddaughter could have thrown that together. Proving my simple tastes, I longed for something that maybe at least approached Thomas Kincaid or Norman Rockwell – even Walt Disney. It was definitely no match for the school art exhibit at the County Fair.
Then I turned a corner in one of the galleries and I saw it. Apart from the other exhibits, and sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall, was a white, twenty-five pound bag of cat litter, very similar to the cat litter I had bought many times before at the local grocery store. My first question was, “Why would someone leave a bag of kitty litter in one of the most famous museums in the world?” Then I raised my eyes a little, and there on the wall above the bag, was a small placard that read: “Cat Litter”, followed by the “artist’s” name, Robert Gober, and I realized that this was a part of the exhibit. This was a piece of art. This was a sculpture. How ridiculous, I thought to myself. Am I supposed to take this seriously? I honestly had seen the mementos left in the bottom of a litter box that looked more like art than this did. But what did I know, I was from the boonies, my backyard was a cornfield, and my cultural experiences were undeniably limited. I said a little prayer of gratitude for my artistic ignorance, and I moved on,
It was a good story to tell for quite some time. And now, looking back at our visit there, I wonder how many thousands of people have since walked past this display with stifled laughs, full of disbelief that someone gave this common object such value, and questioned its worth and right to be classified as a creation of art. And though I struggle seeing any artistic value in a bag of cat litter, I now realize that many times I can be guilty of a little bit of pride, a little self-righteousness, a little arrogance, a little judgmentalism, when I assume that my view or opinion has more merit than anyone else’s. I can assume that I have the ability to determine something or someone’s worth.
The bottom line is, as far as others are concerned, we might be perceived as bags of cat litter. There may be those who question our worth, who may see no beauty in us at all, who question our right to place ourselves in the midst of this wondrous creation. But that is not true of God. In God’s eyes, contrary to my own opinion, I am a masterpiece. I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”, God loved us so much that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. As the Master Artist who could have chosen any form, we are “created in His own image”.
So as beholders, we should try to find the beauty in all that God has created, especially in ourselves and each other. In God’s eyes there is no common, no ordinary, no worthless piece of His creation. He treasures it all.
I guess I like to think of myself as a bag of cat litter, leaning on a wall, with a placard above my head that says: “Keith Langdon, inspired by God and molded in His loving hands.” And since I know the artist personally, I won’t mind so much if others don’t appreciate His work.