We are all approaching this holiday’s air travel with a little more dread. Add to the usual delays and cramped seats, there’s now the possibility of being picked to choose between a “full-body scan” and the new, more thorough pat-down.

Personally, I’m choosing not to focus on those issues and instead looking to the sparkling gems of travel in the San Diego International Airport — art!

The other day I took a tour of the airport’s three terminals with Constance White, the airport’s art program manager, and was pretty much awestruck by what I saw. Sure, I’ve spotted pieces here and there, but I’ve always been in such a hurry to get through the ticketing lines, the security, the Starbucks, that I rarely took the time to really look.

This time I did. And what I saw was an airport alive with creativity. From the Kafkaesque-imagery of Greg Brotherton‘s sculptures in the commuter terminal, to the 40 jewel-colored amoeba-shaped splatters of travel knickknacks on the walls of Terminal 2 East by brothers Einer and Jamex de la Torre, we San Diegans are fortunate to run through a gallery as we race to catch our flights. And if you are lucky/unlucky enough to have some extra time there, just look around.

“I love to see people smile with wonderment,” White said as we took a shuttle from the commuter terminal to Terminal 1. “I love it when people do a double-take, and I see that all the time.”

I had asked for the tour because I couldn’t shake the memory of gorgeous pieces on the walls of The West End Gallery (on the ground floor just before you go through security in Terminal 2). A former Sunglass Hut, the approximately 600-square-foot space became a gallery about a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, it closed in early September to make way for the expansion of Terminal 2. The last show there was the exquisite images of birds and human bodies by San Diego artist Julia San Roman.

“The airport was a great venue to display my creative output and, being a public space in the city of San Diego, was something prestigious that I will always be proud of,” San Roman said. “The best of all is that the gallery owner from a prestigious gallery in Houston, Laura Rathe Fine Art, saw the show when she was on the security line and loved it so much that she is now representing my work in Texas with the prospects of a solo show in the near future.”

To help make up for the loss of the West End Gallery, new display cases were set up in Terminal 2 near Gate 22. The space is now showing the ethereal fabric work of San Diego-based artist Cathy Breslaw.

The airport has a program of both works it commissions artists to make specifically for the airport, and of temporary rotating exhibits of up to six months. Local and national artists are displayed. There’s art by young people, and regular performances of dance and music.

“We are talent scouts, always looking for an artist that does something fun, funky and new,” White said.

For instance, Brotherton’s work is in the commuter terminal through January. The pieces on display are part of a larger show he will have in Belgium in April. He said it was a terrific place to display his work because of the helpful and supportive staff and the constant traffic.

“When you fly into a new city, airport art is usually your first exposure to that city’s cultural flavor,” Brotherton said. “I often associate a city and its level of sophistication with the public art that it displays. I have seen some great art in airports, and it is exciting to me that I get to be that first impression. Granted, my work has little to do with sunny, sporty San Diego, but I hope that it is more interesting to travelers for that reason and helps inform of a broader art scene.”

So, as you go to the airport today, tomorrow or in December, keep your eyes open. Take your mind off the hassles by looking up and around. Here are a few of the other pieces that caught my eye as I toured:

• Commuter Terminal: “Time Interwoven” by Solana Beach artist Christie Beniston. At first glance it is just color and pattern covering a wall by the elevators. But look closer and you see the work is a grid coordinated with time zones and the light is shifting.

• Terminal 1: Look up to see “In-Flight” by Mike Mandel of Watertown, Mass., after you go through security. The Italian glass mosaic murals showing people flying are breathtaking, and will definitely make you feel better about the flight ahead.

• Terminal 2: “Light waves” by Encinitas artist Deanne Sabeck are projected light and glass sculptures on the first and second levels of Terminal 2 West. At first the pieces look almost ordinary, but then you see the etchings of poetry and the grace of the lines.

I went through security screenings twice in my quest to see what kind of art the San Diego airport offers. It was totally worth it.

Dani Dodge likes to sketch while waiting in airports. Contact her at Dani@DaniDodge.com or facebook.com/DaniDodgeArt. You can also read her past Guide from the Inside posts.

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