Bill G. and I took the train to downtown Philadelphia on Monday. Our goal was a lofty one – to visit the Barnes Museum and, perhaps, the Rodin Museum, too. What I expected was a semi-boring day filled with a slow walk indoors and a humid, hot one outdoors. I was half right. It was hot!
Having visited only a dozen or so museums, cathedrals, etc. in America and Europe and having been bored stiff at most of them, I felt like I was doing something akin to trying Candy Corn for the umpteenth time. (If you haven’t seen Louis Black’s routine on the insanity of trying and retrying this annual Halloween candy, give yourself a laugh by clicking here.)
As a man who makes his living as an artist, you’d think I would be very interested in classical music, opera, ballet and museums. In most cases, however, the answer to an invitation to see these performances and places has always been “Ummm. Do I have to?” I credit this to a piss poor education in the beaux-arts. If you’re raised on rock, you usually stick with it until you’re dying day.
Of course, I have always wanted to enjoy paintings and sculpture, so I traveled to these two museums with low to moderate expectations. As it turns out, that and the fact I was with Bill helped turn my day around.
Bill is the type of guy who asks people for help. Before we boarded the train and afterward, he asked the stationmasters for maps and guidebooks, schedules and suggestions. When we arrived at the Barnes Museum, he asked about guided tours and we decided to purchase one covering Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde. “Okay,” I thought. “Bill is in his City. He’s been to this museum lots of times. Let’s give this new way of seeing things a whirl.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered seeing the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC with Beth and our friend, Steven. Part of the reason I liked it was because we bought headphones that gave us an audio-guided experience. So this experience was building upon that interactive success.
Suffice to say that I enjoyed the heck out of it. Our docent (new word for me) at The Barnes was an elderly woman with a young student’s glee for art history. She made the art and the artists come alive! And I discovered why I have hated previous museums and other historical places – there was no one putting the experience into context WITH enthusiasm. I have to admit, I was probably an unenthusiastic listener in my youth, so I accept some of the blame for coming late to art and architecture appreciation. Still, I think it’s fair to say that any subject can be exciting when the person teaching it is, too. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of good art history teachers in schools because we don’t value that in education. Accordingly, it is hard for kids to appreciate Matisse masterpieces (see above) when they are exposed to nothing but Marvel movies.
The Rodin Museum is quite small, by comparison. We missed out on the last tour, so we wandered around on our own. Here are some of the things we saw. I think you’ll agree that the sculptor was probably not a man who appreciated light conversation.
I’m very thankful that Bill took me to see a part of Philadelphia that eluded me in past visits. Now, I feel like I want to visit museums and other sites as long (as I can find someone who knows their stuff). There’s a lot to learn and I just had my eyes opened a lot wider!