Here's a holiday gift idea: Take someone you love to an art museum.
Just go. Take your mother. Take your husband. Take your girlfriend.
Meet them there or take the train together. And remember: no pressure. It's not like a play, a movie or a concert, that your companion might like but that he might as well hate, leaving you both stuck in your seat and feeling responsible. You can go out of a gallery at any time.
You also do not need to ask someone you love. Just try someone you like more or less. Your mother-in-law Your boss. The old lonely widower you shovel at times. Appointment with your laboratory partner, the one you think will give you fun looks. Or a double date with the couple you used to see on weekends before leaving the neighborhood.
Have a plan, or not. Personally, I like to know where I'm going to lunch. But other than that, I'm up for anything.
Do not be like those determined gold diggers carrying metal detectors on the beach. You do not have to go through the whole museum. Just wander in one or two galleries, then go out. (Are you worried about expenses? Get a pass at your local library, wait for free evenings or become a member to reduce costs.)
If you are in New York, spend half an hour the Whitney, then stroll along the High Line. If you are in San Francisco, go to Young's, then sit down to eat in the Japanese Tea Garden. In St. Louis, if you've finished stuffing yourself with Matisse and Max Beckmann, take a stroll on Picnic Island.
In Boston, I enjoy going to Harvard Art Museums, then strolling down the Harvard courtyard to my favorite restaurant, Santouka. Sometimes it's good to be alone. But in general, if I'm in company, things come up and have a better taste.
Another suggestion: do not wait for the big one Retrospective Delacroix at the Met, or Warhol's huge show with the huge lines of the Whitney, the expensive tickets, the two hours of ridiculous jostling. Just wander through the permanent collection.
You do not even have to go to one of the big museums. There is a good chance (America is so lucky!) The university art museum located an hour away already has a Delacroix, but if it does not he will have an Ingres, a Corot, a Courbet, a Seurat, a Cezanne, a Monet and a Morisot. The 19th century French in short, in other words, on the permanent display. And no crowd.
But wait. Have you ever heard of Corot? You "do not know anything about art"?
I hear a lot. I understood. There is no end to what I do not know. But really? You tell me that you do not know how to look at pictures?
Let me help you: here is a battle scene; you can see by the smoke and firearms and horses looking scared. It is next to that the portrait of a woman with a lively air wearing a large white collar, which is clear. The table in the next gallery is "abstract", which means it's not an image. of anything, in itself – but it's okay if it reminds you of a goat. Here is the most desolate and melancholy landscape in the world. And that's what some lucky people look like without their underwear.
It's not difficult, that's all I say. After a few weeks, I dropped out of English literature in college because I could not follow the reading. I started art history because it was good to flip through picture books knowing what I was studying.
And I was in the fact. I have learned a lot. Museums are also interesting for that. You learn – and learning to learn, discern, discriminate – without much effort. If there was a comparable fitness technique, it would be the next craze.
I know surgeons who take their busy students to museums to perfect their sense of observation. This makes them better diagnose. I also wonder if my children would not learn more than they do at school by spending their days at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Everything about Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt is to be taken. Civic and social studies? Covered. Comparative religion? American history? Race? Colonialism? Trade? Economy? Everything is here.
And, of course, you look at the real thing, not the manuals. This Egyptian statue of Menkaure and her queen has survived 4,500 years of human conflict. He has more to say to you and to me than any of us could know what to do.
But hang in there. It was supposed to be a holiday gift, not an obligation to improve!
Absolutely right. Consider the attributes, the packaging, the satin bow: you head for a large and beautiful building with large majestic rooms. It's heated. There is coffee and cake. The bathrooms are clean.
Better still, there are things you can not believe. Some are so beautiful that you want to cry. They are sensual. They are surprising. They are full of poetry and feelings. Here, a child's violin of the 18th century. There, the vision of the most elaborate hell you've ever seen. And here is a zebra in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
Those models of boats, these Japanese ceramics, these Dutch winter landscapes. . . . You try to imagine what it would be like to be alive then, shoveling snow with your neighbor, skating on the canals of Amsterdam, centuries before the advent of electric light, when merchants and missionaries were going through storms on the high seas. , arriving in Japan suspicious, disoriented, intrigued.
Be careful and you realize: Every object here is like that. It is so strange.
So skip what bores you. Do not even turn your head. Enjoy the luxury of letting entire galleries, entire painting schools and centuries of civilization slide into one Gerhard Richter as a blur as you switch to Gerard Ter Borch's satin skirts or look for your daughter's favorite, "Watson and the Shark" from Copley, or just follow the signs to the room. bath.
Then leave. It is lunch time. Do not worry about what you missed. This thing is not going anywhere. It's yours. It's your daughter. It will be just as dazzling when you come back in April. And it will be here, God willing, in 50 years, when someone you love – or maybe just someone you love – will be kind enough to push you, in a wheelchair, to beyond these same extraordinary creations.