I was on vacation with some of my family in Philadelphia, and we’re sightseeing some of the historical and interesting places around town. We saw the Mutter Museum; a place full of strange and interesting medical phenomena and oddities, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens; a piece of property turned into a beautiful work of art to help an artist cope with his thoughts and emotions, and the Eastern State Penitentiary; a prison originally developed to detain a person in total silence for the duration of their sentence. We also visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and some other tourist attractions while in town. Thinking about the Magic Gardens and these historical sites had gotten me thinking about fitness and our own individual paths. I wanted to write down some of my thoughts, particularly concerning the Magic Gardens and how it relates. I know what you’re thinking; How could I draw parallels between an art exhibit and fitness? Here’s how:
The Magic Gardens in Philadelphia was created, and is still being created, by an artist named Isaiah Zagar. It’s on South Street in Philly and takes up an empty lot where a house should have been and some of the adjoining buildings themselves. You walk up to the entrance of the exhibit, and notice that the art reaches to the top of the buildings; their walls covered in both broken and whole pieces of mirror and tile. The entrance itself consists of those pieces as well, but also has wine and beer bottles, bicycle wheels, and other various items that construct and decorate the front wall. When you get to walk inside the Magic Garden for the first time, it’s almost unbelievable. The artwork covers any empty space available, even the floors. The artist even had to make more empty space by continuing down into the ground. That’s right, he started digging a “basement” so he could continue to develop and create his piece of art.
What really fascinates me is the materials that Isaiah used to create his work. He incorporates other people’s artwork into his own. He uses materials most of us would have cast off as trash, such as toilets, broken tiles, glass, old bottles, old bicycle wheels, bicycle frames, and many other materials I have forgotten. You wouldn’t think that “trash” could ever turn into something spectacular, but Isaiah has managed to do it and continues to do it. When thinking of art, it’s easy to think of the traditional blank piece of canvas that the painter turn into a landscape, or the lump of clay that is molded by the sculpture’s hands into a lifelike figure. Most of us probably walk past many of these materials on a daily basis and just see junk. Isaiah has been able re-purpose these things into something great.
Now, relating back to fitness. Isaiah’s work is not finished. It is evolving and changing, just like our path to a healthier, more fit, lifestyle. Being healthy is never done. It’s not something that we can complete. We can’t reach a certain level, say “Yep, I’m here.”, and stop exercising and eating right after that point, hoping to maintain that same level of health/fitness. It is a path that we follow in hope for continuous improvement. Our path keeps evolving and changing, just like Isaiah’s artwork. We find what works for us. We find out what we like and don’t like to keep changing things; to keep pushing our body to develop the way we want it to. We keep changing things to keep us on the right path.
His non-traditional use of materials reminds me that not every mode of exercise is right for everyone. Just as painting and sculpting is not the only form of art; powerlifting and crossfit is not the only form of exercise. We each have to find what works for us as individuals. It’s interesting to watch the trends and fads that develop in the fitness world, but maybe the tried and true methods are what works best for you. Don’t feel like you have to follow a certain method because it’s something you read in the latest fitness magazine. You do you. Creating a mosaic is the mode of expression Isaiah chose for his art. Find the modes of resistance and cardiovascular training that helps you best along your path to a healthier, more fit, you.
And lastly, Isaiah first started developing the Magic Garden as a form of therapy. He had been going through some difficult times emotionally, and piecing together these seemingly ordinary materials were his catharsis. You can even see important events/people distributed throughout his artwork. You’ll see the name and image of his wife throughout as well as the names of his sons. There were images of 9/11. More and more evidence is coming out that exercise does help with depression, anxiety, mood, and sleep. When beginning to study exercise in college, I studied and focused on the physical aspects of exercise. I had always known that exercise, for me, had been a great stress reliever. It was a way to blow off steam after a difficult or stressful day. Just as Isaiah used his artwork to help him deal with his troubles, you may find that exercise can help you emotionally as well.
I hope this all makes sense to you. I know I haven’t written anything lengthy in awhile, but this really spoke to me and got me thinking. Your life is your canvas, you’re the artist, and you can create whatever you wish! Your life and path to a healthier lifestyle may seem non-traditional to others, but as long as it’s totally you. Explore different foods, different exercises….find what works for you. Keep walking the path to fitness. You may not be happy with what you have so far, fitness wise, but you’re the artist. You can paint/sculpt/mold/mosaic anything. Be the artist!