Recently, we loaded up the kids and headed to Houston for vacation, endeavoring to cram as much touristy fun into five days as was humanly possible. One of the places on our itinerary was the Museum of Fine Art. My husband and I have always enjoyed art museums, and our oldest is now a huge fan as well. But the five-year old… she’s along for the ride. It’s a lot of “Don’t touch the art” and “Don’t run” and “Shhhhhh,” but she’s learning. I tell myself that there is no other way for her to learn how to behave in and to appreciate art museums if she is not given the chance.
Our experience in the morning was very different from our experience in the afternoon. In the morning, we leisurely ambled through gallery after gallery, talking quietly about our favorite pieces and exhibits that piqued our curiosity. After a break for lunch (to refuel) and a trip to the children’s museum (to placate our children), we returned in the evening to finish the galleries we had missed. Only now we were all tired, our feet were sore, more people were there, and there was really loud music playing in the lobby. So while the girls and I took a restroom break, my husband breezed through the remaining rooms to tell us where to find the big-name artists (Picasso in the first room, back wall; Monet 2nd room, left side etc.) so the girls and I could hit the highlights as we cruised through the remainder of the museum.
That crazy day led to an interesting discussion: What is the best way to visit an art museum? I know I posted previously about the reason for benches in art museums. And truthfully, that is the way I prefer to visit — slowly, carefully, taking time to really see the art, to think about it, to be simply surrounded by beautiful works of art.
But what if my regular, everyday existence did not regularly have room for art? What if I had never been exposed to such works of beauty? What if I had been given only one hour to walk inside the doors of an art museum? Shouldn’t I try to fill my visual cup with as much art as I could? Would it be worth it to breeze through just to have that art imprinted in my visual memory? I think so.
My brain cannot process information it does not have. My mind cannot ponder in a vacuum. It needs fuel. We live in a world that is too often ugly or sterile. We work in dull cubicles; our conversations occur all-too-often through technology instead of face-to-face. Our children play video games instead of drawing pictures or building forts. And our minds and imaginations grow dull. How many five-year olds have never even been to an art museum? Did my daughter sit and meditate on the wonderful Pissarro landscapes we saw? No, and frankly I’m not sure she could tell you much about what we saw that day. But her eyes saw much that was beautiful that day, and it will shape the way she thinks and feels. While I did appreciate the beauty of individual works, I also benefited from swimming through that vast collection of art. The world of human creativity is much bigger than I am, and not everyone looks like me, thinks like me, creates like me. To focus on a single work of art is to focus on a single drop of rain. But sometimes I need to see the immensity of the ocean.
What about you?
Are you a stop-and-ponder, focus-on-one-work-at-a-time sort of person? Or do you tend to breeze through and let it all flood over you? I think we all need some measure of both. What do you think? What do you do when you visit an art museum? How do you enjoy experiencing art? How do you take in the beauty of this world, both that of the Divine Artist and the human artists made in His image?