Just a bit ago I was off in Santa Paula, Calif., experiencing the Thomas Aquinas College Summer Program.

Just a bit ago I was off in Santa Paula, Calif., experiencing the Thomas Aquinas College Summer Program.
It was the kind of camp which through a combination of a unique academic experience, delightful activities and wonderful food, aims to have you down on your knees cleaning the feet of the staff with your tears and hair, begging to be admitted.

As part of this devious scheme, 135 other students and I were escorted to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where we were exposed to portraits of haughty French nobles, quaint Dutch families, and emotionally immature Greek gods, because apparently sophisticated intellectual folks are into that kind of thing.

I can't boast that I've ever had a great understanding, or even a high appreciation of art, but I should like to think that during my time in the Golden State I was granted a small revelation that at least slightly improved my comprehension of the visual crafts.

I sat there on that fateful day, staring at an impressionist painting of a stately garden when the Muses whispered.
"Shut up." They said.
Quite taken aback by their instruction, I begged them to repeat themselves.
"We said 'shut up.'"
Now being certain I had heard them correctly, I requested that they explain their direction.
"You, Clarke Peterson, are always trying to put things into words; explaining and pinning down experiences and concepts with definitions. That's all very well for your prose and occasional miserable attempts at poetry, but don't attempt that here."

As you might expect, I did not take kindly to having my entire thought process rebuked, and made protest.
"But surely the painter is attempting to convey some message that can be uncovered and understood! Are you suggesting that I shouldn't apply my reason to his work?"
"Have you ever tried to understand a symphony with reason?" They countered.
"Well... no..."

"Then why do you insist on attempting it with paintings? If the men who created these works had desired to convey their message with words, they would have. However, these were men who thought not with their tongues, but with their eyes. If you want to understand them, you need to forget how to talk and learn how to behold. Let the painting stir you, not vice versa."
Even so justly reprimanded, I found grounds for objection. "What then am I to do with symbolic paintings? Surely then the application of my reason must be employed to decipher their meanings!"

"Do you know how symbols in art work, Clarke? They are not like your letters on a page which have been assigned a meaning. They draw their meaning from that which is within you already, and you must permit them to draw it out of you. They play on your nature and your experiences, not your education. The extent to which you do not understand them is the extent to which they were not meant for you.
"For some works, the experiences they reach out to are lost to time, and this is a sad fate, for a combination of study and imagination must be applied to grasp at their meaning, and this will never have the same impact as a life lived."

Having been thoroughly admonished for my artistic deficiency, I resolved to at the very least attempt the Muses' advice and for a few moments give my vision precedence over my voice.
Perhaps I was wrong to do so. Perhaps it was the insight of a simpleton, but I believe it helped me. Perhaps you may find it to be of some use.

Clarke Peterson is a 17-year-old student who lives in Leavenworth.