So, you know that scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Ferris and his friends are in the Chicago Art Institute? Cameron is looking at a Seurat painting, and he zeros in on it until he only sees the individual dots, the whole artwork making less and less sense to him. Yeah, it was kind of like that. Except I wasn’t in Chicago. And I also wasn’t skipping school to go on an adventure with my crazy best friend. And I guess I wasn’t looking at the Seurat painting trying to ignore my best friend kissing his beautiful girlfriend and–
Actually, now that I think about it, it was absolutely nothing like “Ferris Bueller.” I wasn’t even looking at a Seurat painting. But I was in an art museum.
It was one of those school trips where students split into two distinct groups: those who rush through the exhibits to get to the gift shop, and those who could spend a week in one wing and still not have enough time. I was one of the latter. We were in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I was most definitely feeling rushed.
After having spent way too much time in the Asian pottery wing, I was stumbling through the contemporary art, desperately clinging to every piece of media. Who knew when I would ever see these priceless works again? There were too many colors, too many emotions, too much life to merely glance at and move on.
Behind me, I dragged my best friend, Natalie. Now, Natalie has never been one for the visual arts. She is a musician. She had learned the beginning letters of the alphabet before she started school, not because she had a crazy yuppie mother who wanted her to get ahead, but because she learned to play the piano at the age of five. I, on the other hand, have always been enamored by the visual arts, whether it’s theater, painting, drawing, or even sculpture. Between the two of us, we have every area of an arts department covered.
Natalie humored me, following me through the independent film rooms, the abstract sculptures, the Picasso exhibit, and yes, even the countless hallways of Asian pottery. We were just entering the first few rooms of fine art when I looked at my watch. Damn, we only had 30 minutes before we had to be back on the buses.
“Hey, Nat,” I tapped my watch, “Thirty minutes.”
“You want to head back to the gift shop? I’m sure everybody else is there already.”
I looked ahead, the hallway split off into at least 10 rooms. “Maybe we could fit in just one more room? Then I promise we’ll go to the gift shop. Really, I promise.”
She shrugged. “Go ahead.”
I turned back to the hallway, wondering which room to pick. It was like a lottery, and I didn’t want to pick a dud. I had to end on a high note. I settled on the second door to the right and took Natalie’s hand. “This one.”
Have you ever walked into a room and instantly known that something was wrong? Like it’s cursed or somebody had died there or something? Yeah, it was kind of like that – except the exact opposite. I knew that I was about to stumble upon something incredible.
The painting screamed at me. I had never seen it before. A twisting of blues and grays, each swirl giving shape to what appeared to be a series of rock formations with water cascading around them. It was much more colorful than the paintings around it, and something about the erratic, short brushstrokes suggested more abstract than fine art. But there it was. One of the finest works in existence. Ahead of me hung a treasure by van Gogh.
I rushed forward, taking in the painting’s glory, only stopping when I was the mandatory three feet away. Trailing behind, Natalie was only slightly surprised by my outburst. “I take it you like the painting?”
I could only nod, still in awe. The last time I had seen a van Gogh, I was six. Back in Kansas, my mother had taken me to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was there that I gained my appreciation for fine art and saw my first van Gogh. On my next birthday, my mother gave me a “Starry Night” poster that hung above my bed for years, showing me the beauty in the night sky that lay just beyond my ceiling. As I looked at this painting, I couldn’t help but remember the countless times I had tried to emulate van Gogh’s famous vase of sunflowers.
Vincent van Gogh had become a part of my life. His art has always been there, and when I was old enough to read about him, his pain was with me too. He was an inspiration to me. His ability to see color where no one else did. His ability to turn pain and suffering into sunflowers and rivers.
A tear welled in my eye, “Nat, do you have any idea what this is?”
She looked at the small tag next to the painting and read, “‘Ravine by Vincent van Gogh,’ Oh hey! I think I’ve heard of this guy. Isn’t he the one that cut off his own ear?”
I stared at her, dumbfounded. But after a moment, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, that’s the one.”
We both turned back to the painting, and I took Natalie’s hand in mine. Maybe one day she would see art the way I did. Maybe not. Maybe … I could help her see.
“You ready to head to the gift shop?” she asked, shaking me out of my daze.
I glanced at my watch. Crap! We had to be back at the buses in 10 minutes. I looked at Natalie and smiled. “Run.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.