My Relationship With Art Museums: It’s Complicated

I have a complicated, but predictable, relationship with art museums.

Nearly every time I’m in one, the thought crosses my mind of what an anachronism art museums are in today’s world of movies, flash-mobs, and scrolling billboards (ie, mediums that move). That standing in front of a static painting stuck on a wall inside of a building is thing that people enjoy doing in the 21st century seems odd. Just when part of me wonders if the whole art museum idea is one founded partly on nostalgia and partly on people going just because they feel its something they should do, I see a painting that rocks me, and I realize that maybe looking paintings from a hundred years ago, or more, is an activity relevant to today.

I’ve had some majorly moving experiences inside the walls of a number of museums. And they were all the more unexpected considering the internal monologue that runs in my head during the museum experience.

Oh look at me, I’m being so cultural today. I’m going to a museum. I should probably wear a flowy scarf and bring a small dignified notebook in which to write down interesting facts and deep thoughts.

How lucky I am to be in a city and have the free time to explore such an esteemed collection of art?

Wow, really, you’re going to charge me $20 to look at images that don’t even move?

My biggest accomplishment today may be deciphering this geometry project of a floor plan. 

Okay, abstract art. I appreciate that you exist, but I just don’t get you.

Okay, surrealism, you are super cool and smart. I don’t want to hang you in my apartment, but, mad props for being so complex.

Okay, paintings depicting epic battles, dark still lives of fruits, and the bazillion paintings of Jesus and/or Mary, I see you hanging there. I just have, like, zero interest in taking a closer look.

Impressionists of the 19th and early 20th centuries: I love you. You move me. I could stand here and look at you all day and feel a million things. Especially you, Ed and Ed. (Degas and Hopper).  

I was recently tooling my way through my favorite of the three major Madrid museums, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, generally enjoying myself and the flowy scarf I was wearing when I came upon Edward Hopper’s “The Hotel Room.” In it, a woman is sitting on a bed in a hotel room, her suitcase and clothes and shoes set in a way that indicate she’s just checked in. She is looking at a piece of paper and she seems lost and unsure of what do next. I get the sense looking at it that in the next scene, she could just as easily say “Fuck it, this is too hard. I’m not going out,” and bury herself under the covers as she could stand up, get dressed, and march out into the unknown city and totally conquer it. I was bowled over by this painting because it conveys so much feeling, and quite of a bit of plot, actually. As much as a novel, movie, or song. And I can so relate. In my life of moving around so much, I know I have a choice to make between feeling discouraged (at not being able to communicate effectively, getting hopelessly lost, etc.) and just putting myself out there, no matter how uncomfortable it seems.

The fact that a non-moving piece of art painted more than 80 years ago solidified that idea for me in a way nothing else ever has tells me museums are a powerful tool that encourage visitors to think and feel things they might not have otherwise.

To art,

The Dame in Spain

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81. This painting makes me want to crawl inside of it. And to start using the word "luncheon" instead of lunch.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81. This painting, on display at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, makes me want to crawl inside of it. And to start using the word “luncheon” instead of lunch.
Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator, 1929. This painting has so many (Freud-inspired) ideas going on. But I wouldn't want it hanging above my couch.
Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator, 1929. This painting, which you can see at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, has so many (Freud-inspired) ideas going on. But I wouldn’t want it hanging above my couch.
Tityus, Titian. 1548 - 1549, This painting, on display at the Prado in Madrid, is rumored to have inspired Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."
Tityus, Titian. 1548 – 1549, This painting, on display at the Prado in Madrid, is rumored to have inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I generally skip over works in this genre during museum visits.
Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931.
Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931. It hangs beautifully in the utterly unpronouncable Thyssen-Borenmisza in Madrid. 

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