‘All the Beauty in the World’ Review: A Meditation on Stillness and Purpose | arts

In All the Beauty in the World, debut author Patrick Bringley presents a breathtaking meditation on time, relationships and finding meaning. Bringley takes readers on a journey of brooding in the stillness of his grief to reenter the busier, noisier world – which he finds full of new meaning.

A former New Yorker magazine contributor, Bringley begins his story by explaining his decision to quit his job after losing his older brother to cancer. As a result of his changed perspective following this devastating loss, Bringley intentionally steps away from his busy New York lifestyle to pursue a slower pace. He eventually decides to become a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Throughout the book, Bringley offers valuable insight into the emotional mindset and events he experienced during his brother’s illness. Instead, he narrates his life in the museum, beginning with simple observations of seemingly mundane moments in everyday life. Bringley meticulously describes his first moments at the Met, meeting colleagues and learning the various room assignments. For a less skilled writer, this detail could slow down writing. However, Bringley is so compassionate about enlivening both his associates and his work that the detail only serves to reinforce the memoir’s contemplative tone. But above all he describes the art.

Bringley presents art museums as sanctuaries from the world. It offers art descriptions that may be too detailed for some readers. However, some readers may find that these intricate details put them in the same reflective state of mind, the same trains of thought in which Bringley himself existed. What All the Beauty in the World lacks in exclusive details about Bringley’s personal life, it makes up for with a stunning glimpse into Bringley’s mental space. His humble perception of himself and others refreshes readers.

Time slows down as you read about Bringley’s everyday life. Did all of Bringley’s days really pass in this dreamlike trance of calm and reflection?

“I feel like I surrendered to the turtle movement of a guardian period. I can’t pass the time. I can’t fill it, kill it, or tear it apart into smaller pieces,” Bringley writes. “What can be excruciating for an hour or two is oddly easy to endure in large doses.”

“All the Beauty in the World” is a written testimony of the power of consciously stepping out of the dizzying hectic pace of life to take time for stillness. Embedded in the prose of a memoir, the reader finds a declaration of love for art.

Bringley’s perspective uniquely balances the microscopic encounters in life with the macroscopic details of the world. As he zooms out in time, contemplating millennia and tracing patterns in history, he then zooms in on a moment: a person’s facial expression, a museum student’s question, a Picasso’s brushstrokes.

“I think sometimes we need permission to stop and worship,” he writes, “and a work of art grants us that.”

From a philosophical point of view, Bringley pulls the reader in, gently convincing them that life is not a race, that it doesn’t have to be spent running towards some unreachable, unattainable goal. He offers that sometimes the best course of action is to admire the stillness of stillness.

Ultimately, Bringley’s writing paints a softer world. Bringley reflects, “On a typical day, it’s easy to look at strangers and forget the most basic things about them: that they’re just as real as you; that they have conquered and suffered; that like you they are involved in something (life) that is hard and rich and short.”

His words and the art he describes elevate the mundane to the realm of the sacred: “I’m sometimes not sure which is more remarkable: that life lives up to great paintings or that great paintings do up to life.”

Instead of choosing a darker path, Bringley decides to look at everything around him with greater love and care. He speaks with great humility, noting that it’s a “lucky” day when he can “look with love into the weary, busy faces of strangers.”

Just when it seems the soothing stillness is enveloping all of life, Bringley begins to emerge from the museum bubble. He takes the reader on a journey to find love, get married and become a father. Noise slowly seeps back into his life as his ever-present sadness begins to fade. As he builds a life with his new wife, he learns the joys and difficulties of fatherhood and begins to desire to expand his talents beyond the walls of the Met.

Overall, Bringley offers valuable insight into his personal life. His conclusions at the end of the book show remarkable maturity and depth of thought as he sees a growth in himself, a purpose for life and a time and place for all things.

As he says: “Sometimes life is about simplicity and stillness, in the sense of a watchful guardian amidst shimmering works of art. But it’s also about the head-down work of living and fighting and growing and creating.”

– Staff member Sophia N. Downs can be reached at [email protected].


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