A couple months ago, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Unfortunately, I had very little money, no car, access only to unreliable tourist buses, and, on top of all that, no smartphone to navigate. My plans ran amuck, and my brother and I careened around the entire city before we finally got to the art museum. When once we finally entered, we found its complimentary WiFi had crashed, and I had to find a way to get my brother out of the museum district to somewhere with an internet cafe so he could do his homework. I ran out and stared at the Romanesque mausoleums stretching half a mile in every direction: no internet cafes. Having no idea what to do, I did what many of us must admit we have done before – I sat down on a bench and cried.
Faintly, I saw a blurred pair of legs approach me. A person sat down beside me. “What’s wrong?”
It was a kind museum shuttle driver whom I had asked (before I resorted to crying) about internet cafes only to get the response, “Internet cafe? What’s an internet cafe?”
I wiped the water off my cheeks and explained in detail. He told me and my brother to hop on his shuttle and get off at the Rodin Institute, walk a block, and we’d find ourselves at a library.
“I can’t watch a pretty girl cry,” he said.
As the shuttle pulled out into traffic, I stood by the driver’s seat, my hand on a railing, and proceeded to chat with the driver about Philadelphia, African art, and Van Gogh. You see, most of my tears had been the tears of a disappointed child; I had been waiting for days to gaze upon Van Gogh’s genius in person only to arrive in the foyer and find myself thwarted by the wretched fallibility of internet routers. The shuttle ground to a halt.
“That’s the Rodin,” said the driver.
“I’ll be back,” I assured him. “I can catch this shuttle back to the Museum, right?”
He tipped his cap, and we hurried off.
While my brother settled down at the library, I searched the shelves for art books and found a lovely tome titled Becoming Van Gogh (Denver Art). I retain a sheet of graph paper scrawled with quotes from Van Gogh’s correspondence. I found it today, stuffed in my math binder, complete with underlinings:
- “Anyone who has so much faith and love that he takes pleasure in
what others find tedious, namely the study of anatomy, perspective, and proportion, they remain, and mature slowly but surely.”
- “Onward – and it doesn’t matter a damn if it fails – and if it fails, then do it again.”
- “The spell of ‘you can’t’ is great, but the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something. . . steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, violates.”
- “My great desire is to learn to make such inaccuracies, such variations, reworkings, alterations of the reality, that it might become, very well – lies, if you will – but truer than the literal truth.”
- “wrestling reality”
Pollard Birches 1884
I fulfilled my vow to the shuttle driver and returned. I waved him down at a stop sign and hopped in, feeling surreal. I had just passed by “The Thinker”…. by Rodin…. The Rodin Institute! I hadn’t made the connection until I saw the gnarly metal sculpture itself meditating on the Institute’s front lawn. I must admit, I took a selfie.
The first large-scale bronze casting was finished in 1902 but not presented to the public until 1904. It became the property of the city of Paris thanks to a subscription organized by Rodin admirers, and was put in front of the Panthéon in 1906. In 1922, it was moved to the Hôtel Biron, which had been transformed into the Rodin Museum.
“The Thinker.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 Jan. 2017.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I had hopped on the shuttle. Off we went, back to the Art Museum. I got in, bobbed around for awhile on cloud 9, and eventually made it to the Impressionist section where I accidentally met eyes with a tall, swarthy guy with a manbun. It was one of those really weird eye-meetings where you feel obliged to halt in your tracks. The surrealism vamped up 200%.
“Oh. Hey,” he said, with a rather lost, befuddled look around the room. “I have this feeling you’re an art person.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s funny,” he said, with another lost look about the room. “I’m into zodiacs and horoscopes, and lately everything’s been telling me ‘paint, paint, paint.’ So I thought I’d buy some canvases and just try splashing some paint on them. Do you have any advice?”
I gave him lots of advice and probably scared him off from artsy-looking girls for good.
“Uh, do you have a social media account, or something,” he asked.
“No,” I answered firmly.
We both wandered off.
And now, oh joy!, I could go and check out those priceless Van Gogh’s.
Turns out I was a bit disappointed. Van Gogh paintings vary profusely in quality. He was, after all, a trailblazer, and some of his experiments didn’t work out too well.
However, I did find an unexpected diamond sparkling in the corner. Monet’s “Waterlilies and a Japanese Bridge” entranced the eye with its pensive depth. Photos fail to capture the richness of the original.
Waterlilies and a Japanese Bridge 1889
See the layers, the way they draw you into the picture? In person, that effect is stronger.
From the same year, Van Gogh’s ugly baby picture (as I like to call it); I liked it so much I took a close-up picture:
Portrait of Madame Augustine Roulin and Baby Marcelle 1889
It may be ugly, but it’s fascinating.
I didn’t have much time. We had to be back at the hotel in time for dinner. So I toddled back out to the shuttle, jumped on, got off at the Rodin Institute, walked a block to the library, grabbed Ben, toddled back the the shuttle, and asked the shuttle driver if the buses were still running.
“You can walk back to the ____ Hotel,” he said. “See that fountain over there? Just walk towards it and continue up ___ Road. Continue on that, and you’ll recognize the area. Turn right and you’re back at __ Square.” He made me repeat the directions back to him, and he made Ben repeat them too.
I must say, I was a bit chagrined. We had traipsed about on the buses for a couple hours – heck, we went through Chinatown! – and the museums had been within walking distance all along.
But the story ended happily at a fancy restaurant, where we filled up our growling bellies with fancy food, and finally, in our fancy beds, lulled to sleep by the twinkling lights of the cityscape below.
2 thoughts on “An Artistic Adventure”
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