We went to the National Gallery in Ottawa, recently, compliments of my mother-in-law, an avid lover of art. I like THE arts. I like artists. I like the idea of liking art. But I do not fall over myself very often about art. More than one tear has been shed in my house over a masterpiece (fed by me) to the woodstove. I don’t feel about art museums the way I feel about fabric stores. (Fabric stores give me a headache in thirty seconds and make me want to lock all the crafty people in cupboards with their bead collections.) But visual arts are . . . far away.
I learned two things at the art museum last week. First, were I able to view art without having myself so thoroughly viewed as I viewed it, if there were say two, instead of thirty guards hovering and trailing us from room to room, I might be evolved enough to enjoy art. (If the guards were behind a glass and viewing them was part of an exhibit, set against different colors and fabrics perhaps, I would definitely enjoy that.) Not all of it. Not even fifty percent, but ten percent of what was there called art, would honestly interest me, ask questions of me and even provoke delight.
The second thing I learned was about my children. Three of them were on the excursion. Girl two’s relationship with art is not yet clear. For the other two, art is poetry. Obscure and accessible only to the erudite poetry does not particularly interest me. With instruction, I am appreciative of its intricacies. But poetry that sings. Or cries. Poetry that you can understand with your heart, no preparation required. Poetry that moves down, down in the deepest corners. I drink that poetry as water. I go months without it, then stumble headlong, desperate for its taste. It refreshes and restores like no other.
To be kept from poetry would leave a part of me stunted. Poetry is a private sunshine, an old and faithful well. Whatever the metaphor, I am more me with it than without.
Art is like that for Boy two, even more so it seemed, for Girl one. I saw some paintings at the museum I liked, but the most remarkable thing I saw were my children, walking from room to room, oblivious to glaring guards, or ticking time, caught up in a magic I couldn’t see. Or if I saw it, it was in their eyes.
I learned that despite my lack of vision, they need to see art because it’s a place where they see poetry. We’ll need to go back, and we’ll need to find other places to do art. It might not be my perfect cup of tea, but we’re not tall enough in this family to chance having a few inches of anybody stunted.