Despite my best efforts, I tend to feel out of my depth in art museums. In my eager observation of a work of art, I often see what it depicts in the most literal sense: a slab of metal, a wall of color, a portrait of an unfamiliar face, a frame with paint inside the lines. All I want in these moments is to experience the beauty, the mystery, the depth, but too often I end up reducing art to an object that sits before me, lifeless and without meaning.
Yet this is not what art is ultimately interested in. Its primary concern is not with the thing in itself, what it literally is. If that were the case, paintings and sculptures and objects would never suggest meaning beyond themselves. A work of art is essentially different from a mere depiction because the object does more than depict. It points not to its own concrete physicality, but toward a deeper, more meaningful truth the participant is invited to see, to feel, to experientially know.