Years ago, back in the Dark Ages, I took an art history class during a summer semester at Rutgers, hoping to score some quick credits while sitting in a dark lecture hall, looking at slides (this was before we had PowerPoint and all that good stuff). I thought it would be easy. And I was right.
But it was also a lot of fun—and I never expected that.
Despite a halfway decent school system and my parents’ many attempts to give me “culture” through frequent trips to the nearby museums of New York City, I’d always been fairly indifferent to art. Sure, a super-realistic painting that looked as clear as a photograph impressed me, but I neither knew nor cared about the history of art or its many trends and themes.
I can’t say my art history class necessarily changed me—but I did come away from it with an affinity for a few pieces of artwork that has lasted through all the decades since I took the class.
And one of my favorites is the Winged Victory, or Nike of Samothrace.
The flying goddess is depicted just at the moment when she’s landed on the deck of a ship after a great victory in battle. (Don’t ask me what battle or even what war; I don’t remember, if I ever even knew. Look it up if you really want to know. 😊)
This ancient sculpture may well be the piece of art I love best. In fact, I own not just ONE replica of it, but two: One sits on a bookshelf and the other, right here beside me on my writing desk.
Why do I like it?
I’m not quite sure.
For starters, I guess, I like the motion of the statue. Even though it’s a stationary piece of stone, you can almost feel the wind rushing through the goddess’s gown and feathery wings.
More than that, I love the fact that the statue is missing its head.
Okay, I know it’s probably a bit looney of me to think it’s a good thing that the piece has been damaged forever, but to me, the headless-ness makes the figure all the more powerful because anyone can imagine herself in the Nike’s place—standing strong, fearless, victorious.
Throw in the fact that the female body is ever so slightly on the stout side (like mine), and not waif-thing like it would be if it were being sculpted today, and what’s not to love?
I bought the larger of my two copies of the sculpture to celebrate my first big promotion as an editor (my first publishing “victory”), all the way back in 1997. I don’t remember when I picked up the miniature version I keep on my desk, but I’ve had it there, where I can see it every day, for years.
I mean, really—I defy you to come up with something more inspirational than a headless chunky woman with wings. It simply can’t be done.
Well, okay, whatever. It works for me.