So… you know that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where they’re in the Chicago Art Institute? Cameron is looking at that one Seurat painting and he kind of just zeroes in on it until he only sees the individual dots of the painting, the whole piece 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 to try and ignore my best friend kissing his girlfriend, a beautiful girl I just might be in love with 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 to a museum where you and your fellow students split yourselves into two distinct groups: those who rush through all 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. The museum in question was the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts and I was most definitely feeling rushed.
After having spent way too much time in the Asian pottery wing, I was stumbling my way through the contemporary art, desperately clinging to every piece of media I saw like a leaf in the wind. Who knew if I would ever see these priceless works again? I simply didn’t have enough time here. There were too many colors, too many emotions, too much life to only be passed through and glanced at.
Behind me, I dragged my best friend of five years: Natalie Elizabeth. Now, Natalie had never been the one for the visual arts. She herself was a musician, always had been. She told me once that she had learned the beginning letters of the alphabet before she started public school, not because she had a crazy Yuppie mother that wanted her to get ahead, but because she learned to play the piano at the age of five. She was a musician through and through, always was and always would be. I, on the other hand, had always been enamored by the visual arts, whether it was through theater, painting, drawing, or even sculpture. Between the two of us, we had every area of an arts department covered.
I still felt as though I didn’t have enough time in the museum, and 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 thirty minutes left and we had to be back on the busses.
“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 ahead of us split off into at least ten different rooms, each one with dozens of priceless paintings, “Maybe we could fit in just one more room? Then I promise we’ll go to the gift shop. Promise. Really, I promise.”
She shrugged, “Go ahead.”
I turned back to the hallway, I had my pick of any of the rooms in front of me. It was like a lottery, and I most certainly didn’t want to pick a dud. I had to end on as high a note as possible. I finally settled on the second door to the right and took Natalie’s hand, “This is the one.”
Now, have you ever walked into a room and instantly known that something was wrong? Like, terrifyingly wrong. Like there’s a cursed object or somebody had died there or something. Yeah, it was kind of like that except it was the exact opposite. I knew that before me was something, something incredible that would live long in the hearts of men.
It was at this point in my journey that I stumbled upon it.
I will never know how I knew, whether it was intuition or God or, more likely, I was just so familiar with the overlapping brushstrokes that it screamed at me. I had never seen this painting before, at least, not in my memory. A twisting of blues and greys, each swirl giving shape to what appeared to be a series of rock formations with water cascading around them. It was so much more colorful than the other paintings around it and there was something about the erratic, short brushstrokes that suggested more abstract than fine art. But there it was. One of the finest works in existence. Ahead of me hung a treasure.
Ahead of me hung a Van Gogh.
I rushed forward, taking the painting in all it’s glory, only stopping when I was the mandatory three feet away. I could of been standing there a minute or a day, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
Behind me trailed Natalie, 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 must have been about six. I used to live in Kansas, and every time we were in Kansas City, my mother would insist that we stop at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was there that I gained my appreciation for fine art and saw my first Van Gogh. I don’t even remember which painting it was, but I do remember the countless books about Vincent I had insisted my mother buy for me afterwords. On my next birthday, my mother had given me a Starry Night poster that hung above my bed for years, always 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 his famous vase of sunflowers.
Vincent van Gogh had become a part of my life. His art has always been there, and when I was finally old enough to understand the words in the books my mother had bought me, his pain was with me too. Since that one day in the Nelson-Atkins, he had become 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.
An unbidden 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 turned to her in silence and stared, dumbfounded. But after a moment, I couldn’t help but laugh a little, “Yeah, yeah that’s the one.”
We both turned back to the painting, just taking it in. I finally took Natalie’s hand in mine and smiled, maybe one day she would see art they way did. Maybe not. Maybe… I could help her see.
“You ready to head to the gift shop?” she said, shaking me out of my daze.
I glanced at my watch, crap! We had to be back at the busses in ten minutes. I looked at Natalie and smiled, “Run.”