Sometime within the last 15 years of my life, I have had the opportunity to visit both a local and an out-of-town art museum with two different close friends. These experiences taught me something important. Always go to the museum alone. At the local museum my friend wanted to swap opinions on the different works and was astonished that I might just like to take it all in without the exchange of ideas. I didn’t know this about myself until then. That being in a museum is like being in a holy place. There is a presence that silently insists to me that I must be quiet and absorb. There is so much to see and process. The thought of trying to put any of that into words and have a chat about it seemed appalling. I told him this when we left the museum. He was so irritated! We didn’t get together very often after that.
The other time, with a different close friend, I remember wanting to spend more than acceptable amounts of time standing in front of different works, letting them affect me and looking closely at the brushstrokes, imagining the person who created them and the way they looked at their canvas while painting. This friend, still a close friend, did not want to talk about the art, but would travel around the museum very quickly stopping here and there and orbit back to me, hovering somewhere behind me waiting. And as patient and polite as he was, I can still remember the feeling of wishing he wasn’t there, so that my time would not be limited.
I’m slow and spend a crazy amount of time in front of a painting that intrigues me. And I’m easily annoyed, I’ll admit it!
But very recently I had a Saturday afternoon alone and I went to a museum I’m fortunate to live close to. It was peaceful and wonderful. I dawdled and daydreamed. I spent too much time. I went back to look at paintings twice. I overheard groups of people marveling over this and that, saw a young couple kissing in a dark corner, and appreciated just being alone with the art.
Before I was finished selfishly lingering about, the fire alarm sounded and we were all escorted out onto the lawn to wait out whatever had happened. I stood outside for probably too long hoping to get the okay to go back in. I wasn’t ready for that time that was holy to me to be over. Eventually, they gave out rain checks and I left, carrying a feeling full of possibility with me.