For example, some people feel awe when they see amazing structures, like magnificent churches, iconic buildings. My husband is an architect, so buildings are more meaningful to him than me. I like seeing fabulous structures, whether buildings, or bridges, or monuments, and am very impressed, but I do not feel awe.
The natural world is the thing that does it for me, without a doubt. I am, for example, awestruck by crystalline snow falling at night, by a glorious sunset over the lake, by ocean waves, breaching whales, and expanses of sand, by witnessing a great blue heron up close, by the flutter of dragonflies, and by listening to the haunting calls of loons at dusk. About a dozen years ago, my family traveled to Alaska and for 10 days I was repeatedly overcome with awe at the majestic landscape. The picture below was taken when my son and I took a helicopter ride over the Denali wilderness.
And of course, I am in awe every time I sit in my kayak, still, in the middle of a quiet lake. I often just put down my paddle for a few moments and breathe in the magic, watching a leaf or feather float across the water, listen to the call of a bird, hear the splash of a fish or turtle. Here's a video sample for you.
And still samples, too.
I'm always amazed, for example, when visiting MoMA, to see the museum-goers with their jaws dropped, standing in front of van Gogh's Starry Night, in total awe. Starry Night doesn't do it for me. It's a small painting, not my favorite van Gogh, and frankly it has become trite. I can skip it completely. What is it that makes use each react so differently from each other to different things? Why, for example, am I blown away by hot air balloons overhead, sounding like dragon breath each time they flame their burners?
What inspires awe in you? It doesn't have to be visual; it can be a piece of music, something beautifully written, such as a poem or story, or perhaps the liturgy from a religious service. I know that, for example, listening to the jewel-toned voice of the female cantor (singer) at the recent Jewish High Holy Day services at my temple, and some of the beautiful writings in the new prayer book we used, moved me deeply. How can you tap into the raw emotion of awe in your students? Is awe something that happens naturally on its own, or can we somehow nurture it in our students? How can we tap into that reverential feeling of awe and use it in our artwork and in our teaching? I'd love your thoughts!
Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a couple of images of my lake at night. The first photo below is an error that really intrigues me. The final image was an exposure of a couple of minutes, taken well after dark.