The Power of Art

In The Art of Travel, 10. The Art of Place, Washington DC by Matthew Chung1 Comment

Art had always been a big part of my life. Growing up, I regularly attended art classes and violin lessons and climbed up the art hierarchy in my hometown. By the peak of my art career, I was taking college level art courses as a high school student, winning several art competitions, and participating as a member of my high school’s Philharmonic Orchestra which was its best group. At the time, I would undoubtedly call myself a creative person and to some degree I still do; however, ever since I finished high school, I haven’t maintained that level of artistic activity. I stopped doing art and I also quit playing the violin. While I may have stopped my own experimentation with art, I still do appreciate it and do regularly look at art online or in museums. In that sense, I was very blessed to be able to study in Washington D.C. which is filled with a diverse range of unique museums and art.

I have been to D.C. for a total of three times now, but the first two experiences were both brief visits. Like any other tourist, my short visits were filled with monument and museum trips across D.C. so I have actually been to many of the museums before. Despite my past history with the numerous museums throughout the city, I came to the realization upon my recent visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum that age really has a pivotal impact on artistic interpretation. As I had mentioned, I had been to this particular museum before; I had actually been twice, once when I was 12 and once when I was 15. Even still, I felt that I got so much more from the museum during my most recent visit over that of my prior two visits. While my first two trips were simply filled with memories of planes and vehicles, my last experience was so much more.

I had actually returned to the Air and Space Museum to do some research for a school project. I was tasked with researching a technological innovation and its impacts on the world and I thought there was no better technology to study than the airplane. I ended up narrowing my project down to aerial warcraft specifically and took a walk through time from the Wright Brother’s first airplane to the Supermarine Spitfire. I had initially looked at these aircrafts as a child, oblivious to their technological significance and impact throughout history, but time and experience transformed how I perceived these vehicles. Over the past few years I have learned about the various events of the world wars and saw statistics about the casualties and destruction, but those were mere numbers and words. Seeing the actual vehicles and models of the vehicles in person was eye-opening in that I was physically able to see the weapons of war which were so violently utilized years ago. Before this particular museum visit, I was not very interested in warfare, but I have come to realize the importance and significance of this bloody past through the museum’s preservation of these airplanes.

Art is very interesting in that it does not really have a definition. Personally, I believe that art is the means someone utilizes to convey something. I viewed the airplanes in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as pieces of art as I felt as if they were a reminder of their purpose and execution. Airplanes were utilized to facilitate mass murder such as the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but they later served as models for the commercial airplanes which we now use on a daily basis. Art is amazing in that there are so many different interpretations and perspectives and it’s really the way you utilize those ideologies which is the most important factor. With this experience in mind, I hope that I foster a greater will to seek out more art through museums and galleries as every piece of art has such unique, individual stories and influential power.


(Image: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum ; Source: WAMU)


  1. This was an interesting post to read. I greatly identify with not feeling as creative as I once was. I find when we are little we are so earlier enrolled in music classes or forced to take an art class, so we have no choice but to be creative. Once we are old enough to make our own decisions perhaps we don’t prioritize creativity as much as we should. I know the biggest regret my father has is not continuing to learn guitar and piano, as he did when he was a child. I hope you pick up the violin again!
    As for your analysis of the planes as war-machines-turned-art, it’s very thought-provoking. I find that I struggle when viewing exhibits such as the ones you were describing. It’s hard for me to overlook the atrocities and violence engrained in the machine. I often feel the paradox of being glad it’s in a museum and allowing me to learn more about the past, while also frustrated that it’s on display, almost like a trophy. I’m sure they contextualize the history behind the machines, and from what you described, it sounds like they do. It can be hard to define art. I think you do an interesting job of challenging what art can be. Art isn’t all just Mona Lisas.

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