I’ve been stuck on the last 20% of a story I’m writing about a haunted frequency, so I went to the museum to shake some ideas loose. When the student is ready, the teacher appears: I’m learning to trust this ancient axiom when it comes to finding inspiration. 

As I wandered the Columbus Museum of Art, my brain was gunked up with doubt and bad adjectives. Then I ran into Berenice Abbott’s portrait of a magnetic field. Its cosmic pattern reminded me of fireworks beneath the eyelids and my childhood conception of God, which came from the opening scenes of It’s a Wonderful Life. My thoughts turned to the moment dots become a recognizable pattern, the phenomena of stray bursts of electricity in our heads cohering into shapes, ideas, and loops that can seduce or horrify. And I was unstuck. For a few hours, anyway.

Known for her dynamic portraits of New York City, Abbott also pulled signals from the air and made them visible. Between 1958 and 1962, she documented magnetic fields and captured the interplay between prisms, water, and beams of light. She photographed wave patterns crashing into a piece of glass. “The artist through history has been the spokesman and conservator of human and spiritual energies and ideas,” Abbott wrote in 1939. “Today science needs its voice.”