“It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.”
–Film Director Danny Boyle
When it comes to the “great sights” of the world – the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, etc. – I try to keep my expectations low. After all, what are the chances that such a site could possibly live up to the hype, especially when taking into account the excessive crowds that flock to such places? As a result, I try to be pretty chill when visiting a monument or a work of art that people have labeled a “must see.” If it’s great, fantastic! If it fails to “wow” me, that’s okay, too. I’ve managed my expectations appropriately.
Such is the mental equilibrium I bring to my visit to the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy, to see Michelangelo’s David. As a college student traveling around Europe after a semester as an exchange student in Paris, I’m pretty excited to see “The David.” In fact, “Italian Renaissance Art” was one of my favorite classes. So here I am now, approaching this ultra-famous sculpture that my all professors extolled as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Talk about hype! How great could it really be?
Well. It’s. That. Great.
It’s more than great. It’s life changing, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s like that line from the Tom Cruise movie “Eyes Wide Shut:” “I have seen one or two things in my life, but never, never anything like this.” Michelangelo’s David is magnificent! To start, at 17 feet high, it’s absolutely huge. It not only dominates the room, but it dominates you. It’s like David is saying, “I am male perfection; bow down to me, for I am a god.” At the same time, the sculpture’s anatomical detail is extraordinary. Veins and arteries pop out of the skin, like a body builder pumped up from a workout at the gym. David is one impressive specimen of humanity, rendered both realistic and hyper-realistic.
More than anything, what’s life changing about the David—at least for me — is the notion that a single, flawed, human artist being could produce something this beautiful, this sophisticated, this mind-blowing. Was Michelangelo a genius? Undoubtedly. But what I know about great masters (in all fields) is that they also work VERY hard at their craft, devoting tens of thousands of hours to transform themselves into vessels for bringing their creations into the world. If Michelangelo can create something like this, through force of will, what can I create? If he can bring this kind of epic grandeur into the world, what can humanity create?
(Managing expectations is a tricky endeavor. On the one hand, you want to set high expectations for yourself and others. On the other hand, you don’t want to beat yourself up with disappointment when your expectations are too grand for your own abilities. The key is to hold reasonable, achievable, stretch goals. And don’t forget that disappointment is not, itself, the worst thing in the world. It’s how we practice resilience and grit. It’s how we learn self awareness, compassion and humility.)