7 Mar 2011
Sometimes in order to appreciate something, you need to know it, understand its reason, purpose or methods.
Sometimes there is some historical context that adds relevance or importance.
Sometimes the skill to produce a thing is obvious, it appears difficult, requires technique, skill, patience.
Sometimes it’s just nice to look at – it’s pretty, and it makes you feel good.
I was reminded of this last summer when my wife and I went to Paris and we brought along with us our then 5 year old daughter. Since she is an only child, she is used to getting a lot of attention from her parents so there are times when we ask her to go along with something that Mom and Dad want to do even though we know she will be bored after 30 minutes. Such was the case when we went through the Museé d’Orsay, probably the 3rd of 4th museum in Paris we made her go through.
Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite painters and the Museé d’Orsay has one of the very best collections of his work so this little field trip was going to happen. As expected, after about 30 minutes my daughter said she was bored and I wasn’t ready to leave. In an effort to extend our stay, I picked her up and started carrying her around with me as we looked at the paintings. Distraction tactics commenced – I started asking her questions about the paintings I was looking at:
How many ears can you see?
Where is the blackest black?
Where was the artist trying to get you to look?
What do you think those yellow bursts look like?
Asking these questions might have initially started out as a way to distract her so we could stop and stand in front of a particular painting for awhile but it turned into us looking at the painting differently. Sometimes we had to move closer, sometimes we had to move further away. She started to qualify what she was looking at -
“I like this one better than that one”, or
“this pale blue in the middle is nice”, or
“that woman looks sad, she must be very lonely”
She started to see the paintings as a story rather than an image and I started to do the same thing. We started making up our own stories of what was happening in the paintings we saw. It was by far the best experience I’ve ever had in a museum.
Kids are funny that way, their impatience or intolerance with a thing typically comes from not understanding it or from being disinterested in the current activity. The slightest of changes will impact the way they see something, and as a result, their behavior will change your behavior. There is no question this activity with my daughter made my trip to the Museé d’Orsay significantly more enjoyable – our 30 minute excursion lasted close to 3 hours.
Take some time to slow down and look at what you are looking at. It can be a bunch of paint brush strokes you’re looking at or people standing in line to get their coffee. Looking at the things around the thing you are looking at can add to the experience in ways you won’t know until you try. Sometimes all it takes is a 5 year kid to point that out to you.
Has anyone else ever had this experience or one like it?