Author(s): Sebastian Smee
What is the inner life? And is it vanishing in the digital age?
Throughout history, artists and philosophers have cultivated the deep self, and seen value in solitude
and reflection. But today, through social media, wall-to-wall marketing, reality television and the
agitation of modern life, everything feels illuminated, made transparent. We feel bereft without our
phones and their cameras and the feeling of instant connectivity. It gets hard to pick up a book, harder
still to stay with it.
In this eloquent and profound essay, renowned critic Sebastian Smee brings to the surface the idea of
inner life - the awareness one may feel in front of a great painting or while listening to extraordinary
music by a window at dusk or in a forest at night. No nostalgic lament, this essay evokes what is
valuable and worth cultivating - a connection to our true selves, and a feeling of agency in the mystery
of our own lives. At the same time, such contemplation puts us in an intensely charged relationship
with things, people or works of art that are outside us.
If we lose this power, Smee asks, what do we lose of ourselves?