Huffpost Arts
Emily Sloan-Pace Headshot

Touch(ed)

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

An ill-conceived attempt at romance in NYC left me crying up and down half the neighborhoods in Manhattan. I forced myself out of the subway, determined to visit at least one museum that day. The MoMA is not my favorite; I am more of a Met girl. But I love van Gogh so off the Subway and into Midtown I went.

The experience of being moved to tears by art is not entirely foreign to me. I will tell you, in all honesty, that I can feel a van Gogh in the room. His art exudes an emotional quality, at times a frenzied desperation. I may be struck by the work of other artists, but never swept up the way van Gogh gets me every time.

After wandering through the museum for an hour or more, I found myself on the fifth floor, in what I dub "The Picasso Room." As I wove my way from painting to painting, a woman approached me with purpose.

She asked me, "Would you like to take a touch tour?"

Not knowing what this was, I immediately said "yes."

She looked a bit surprised. Perhaps people didn't usually acquiesce so readily. She explained that "touch tours" are usually reserved for those with visual impairments. A touch tour is basically what it sounds like: Patrons put on gloves, and get to touch the sculptures. "Today," she explained, "we are trying one out on the general public."

She led me to the corner of the room, where Picasso's "Woman's Head" sculpture sits on a pedestal. She handed me a pair of plastic gloves. I put them on, and she told me to feel free.

I placed my hand on the sculpture. It felt surprisingly taboo: Who actually gets to touch art like this? With only one hand, I fondled the curves of the sculpture, feeling the grooves of the hair, the indents of the eyes. I set down my purse and coat and put both hands on the sculpture, and started moving my hands around and around, my fingertips trying to drink in every detail.

I exhaled deeply, and started to gently weep.

The docent who had invited me asked me if I could describe the sensation I was experiencing. "I'm struck by the fluidity of the piece. By the dynamism. It's so cool to the touch." I dropped my head and hands, took off a glove and wiped away tears, embarrassed to be once again crying in public. "I'm sorry," I hiccoughed out. "I'm going through a really painful time in my life right now."

With a swift motion the docent grabbed both of my wrists and firmly pulled our bodies together. She embraced me, her arms wrapped tightly around my back, pulling me closer and closer. And I began to quietly sob into her shoulder. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," I whispered, over and over again. Her only response was to hold tighter, and I could tell by the minute movements of her body against mine that she too was starting to cry. And so we held one another: two strangers in Midtown Manhattan, who happened to meet on some weekday afternoon, and cried together over a piece of art.