All the Beauty in the World

a painting of Venus & Adonis by Titian

After leaving a job at The New Yorker in the wake of his older brother’s death, Patrick Bringley spent 10 years working as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He wrote a book about his experience at the museum, All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me (ebook). From a review at NPR:

In the wake of his 27-year-old brother Tom’s death from cancer in 2008, Bringley, two years his junior, gave up a prestigious “high-flying desk job” at The New Yorker, where “they told me I was ‘going places,’” for a job in which “I was happy to be going nowhere.” He explains, “I had lost someone. I did not wish to move on from that. In a sense I didn’t wish to move at all.”

Drawn to “the most straightforward job I could think of in the most beautiful place I knew” — a job that promised room to grieve and reflect in the wake of his loss — Bringley arrived at the Met in the fall of 2008. He explains his state of mind when he pivoted toward this union position for which he donned a cheap, blue, polyester uniform and received an allowance of $80 a year for socks: “My heart is full, my heart is breaking, and I badly want to stand still a while,” he writes.

From a piece in the New Yorker in which Bringley tours his old stomping grounds:

He answered an ad in the Times and went to an open house. “They tell you the hours” — for beginners, twelve hours on Fridays and Saturdays and eight hours on Sundays — “and half the people leave,” he recalled. After a week of training (“Protect life and property, in that order,” he was told), he joined the Met’s largest department: some five hundred guards, who work in rotating “platoons.” Bringley spent the next decade at the museum, and has now written a guard’s-eye memoir, “All the Beauty in the World,” detailing a job that is equal parts dreamy, dull, and pragmatic. “You can spend an hour deciding to learn about ancient Egypt, or look around at people and write a short story about one in your head,” he explained.

Bringley’s website has a page that lists all the art he mentions in the book, with links to each artwork on the Met’s website. I love this sort of thing from authors — it’s where I found the image at the top of the page: Titian’s Venus and Adonis. You can also book a tour of the museum with Bringley.

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