As a child, summer was my favorite season. It meant freedom—from homework, school schedules, and school night bedtimes. It also meant adventure—perhaps a visit to a nearby city or a vacation out-of-state. Oftentimes, those adventures involved visiting art museums. I have memories of standing in front of works of art and just thinking.
Over the years, I’ve been asked to do many things with art for school—to study a painting for an art class, to compose a poem from a piece of art for a poetry course. But my favorite thing to do with art is inspired by a friend’s retreat experience, where he was brought to a museum, instructed to find a piece that moved him, and then asked to sit with it, letting contemplation of that piece lead him to prayer.
To make space enough in my mind to just be with a painting is a type of mindfulness I’d like to incorporate into my weekly routine. Wouldn’t it be lovely if this practice could be as easy as making a drink after work and spending 10-15 minutes of quiet reflection with a piece of art in the comfort of your own home? Thanks to the Internet and online museum collections, this is 100% possible.
Below I offer a selection of drink recipes paired with pieces of art to jumpstart this refreshing practice.
01. At the Dressing Table: Self-Portrait by Zinaida Serebryakova. A friend recently introduced me to this early 20th-century painting. What I love about it is the subject’s expression—which strikes me as both knowing and inviting—and the contents of her dressing table, which invite the viewer into a kind of intimacy with the piece. The texture of these objects and the subject’s undergarments makes for a piece that feels both like a photograph and a painting.
Questions that arise from looking at this painting include:
- What is the subject thinking about?
- What do the objects in her room tell me about her?
- What do the objects in my room say about me?
In honor of the artist’s heritage, I’d pair this painting with a cold or iced version of a traditional Russian wintertime drink called sbiten. The ingredient that most intrigues me is the jam, which helps add to the drink’s jewel-colored appearance. It will create a lovely contrast to the more muted tones of the piece.
02. Flaming June by Lord Frederic Leighton. This Victorian-era painting has been a favorite for years. It reminds me of the bright orange poppies I used to see along one of my routes to work a few years back. There’s a peacefulness to the piece, and Google Arts and Culture notes that the “intertwining curves” of the woman’s body “[guide] our eye throughout the composition.”
Some questions guiding my reflection are:
- If I were the woman, what would I be dreaming or feeling? (I imagine a slight cool breeze from the sea, my light dress gently rippling.)
- What does true repose look like in my own life?
- What activities relax and restore me?
To correspond with the vibrance of this piece, here’s a refreshing recipe full of fruit and vivid color: Triple Melon Sorbet Float.
03. “Fall Begins” by Alma Thomas. I first encountered Thomas’s work through “Starry Night and the Astronauts” at the Art Institute of Chicago. Both of these works offer meditations on color and motion. “Fall Begins” in particular causes me to pause and reflect on the marked change of summer into fall. The abstract nature of Thomas’s work also gives me room to let my imagination run free. Not only do I see leaves in this painting, but also a field of poppies or strawberries. Sometimes, after a long day of work, I want that freedom to allow my eyes to wander over a work of art, to delight in color, shape, and form instead of resting on a particular object.
Questions that arise when I look at this piece are:
- What am I seeing, feeling, hearing, and even smelling as I look at this piece?
- What do beginnings entail?
- Are there any areas in my own life where I might be encountering a beginning?
In honor of the imaginative possibilities of this piece, I’m pairing it with this strawberry cooler, which might be just the ticket for reflecting on a cooler time of the year.
04. SHE by Raina Matar. I’ve been so taken by the work in this Lebanese American photographer’s SHE and SHE Continued projects, which explore young womanhood. Most striking is the relationship between the women and the natural backgrounds they inhabit. In her artist statement for the project, Matar notes: “I am photographing them in the larger environment they find themselves in after they leave home, the more global and complicated backdrop that now constitutes their lives in transition.” Three of the photographs that are particularly striking for me include: “Miriam, Khiyam, Lebanon, 2019,” (a woman lying down among dry leaves and roses) “Nadia, Barouk Cedars, Lebanon, 2020,” (a woman among trees) and “Alae-2, Beirut, Lebanon, 2020” (a woman whose dark, flowing clothing reminds me of the sea she stands by).
The bold colors in these pieces lead me to ask:
- How is each woman in conversation with her environment?
- In what ways am I in conversation with the environments I occupy?
- What does the natural world have to say to me?
With these elegant photos, I want to pair a refreshing Lebanese limonada, a lighter version of lemonade that can be made with or without alcohol.
05. “Knitting the Wind” by María Berrío. I love the textured whimsy of this piece. This Colombian artist uses Japanese patterned paper in her works to create beautifully textured mixed-media collages. “Knitting the Wind” invites me into the contemplation of the subjects at the bottom of the piece. Imagine gazing up into lines of billowing laundry. What a change in perspective!
This piece moves me to ponder:
- What feeling do the various colors and patterns in this piece evoke in me?
- Is there anything in my own life that might require a change in perspective?
- What activities best renew my perspective?
Though it might need a little bit of advanced preparation to be on hand for a post-work treat, this traditional Colombian drink deliciously combines oats, milk, sugar, and spices for a sweet treat.
06. “Wanderer Above the Sea Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich. This piece is a personal favorite. I love the brooding clouds, the lone person dubbed “wanderer.” This painting is such a comfort when I’m feeling uncertain, when I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I’m headed. The invitation of this painting is to rest in uncertainty, to realize the fog will eventually lift, that the way will make itself known.
Questions this piece evokes are:
- What is the sea fog in my own life? What am I uncertain about?
- How do I feel about being a wanderer?
- What does the painting’s perspective of standing above the sea fog mean to me?
I can’t resist recommending a cold version of a London Fog, here, in keeping with the theme of the painting. This Iced Lavender London Fog Latte is sure to be a delight.
Art has a way of opening new vistas not only for our eyes but also for our minds. Amid the hustle and bustle of daily life, I invite you to make a tiny gallery of your first after-work hour. Sit before a painting and let it lead you where it will. Feel free to turn on soft music to create a peaceful ambiance. Allow yourself to sip your drink slowly, to mindfully savor it. Whether this practice leads you to new ideas or to greater quiet, wonderful! The hope is that this time of creative rest helps you unwind both body and mind.