Way back when, before I had met my mother-in-law, I had heard that she was a docent. I thought it was pretty cool that she had the ancient gift to be able to find water using only twigs or a divining rod.
Man, was I embarrassed after our first meeting when all I spoke to her about was the search for the universal solvent. Turns out that she was a museum docent…and that she thought that I was a moron.
I should have known better. After all, my wife was an art history major. While dating, we couldn’t travel to a new city without visiting the nearest art museum. And after 15 years of marriage, we still visit museums — just now with our children in tow.
I want to clarify that I am talking about museums with art on the walls, not the cool ones with animatronic dinosaurs and airplanes hanging from the ceiling. The nice thing about going to an art museum with children is the fact that their patience threshold is a little shorter than my own, so it always seems like they are the cretins.
As I look through some old photo albums, it is clear that my kids have seen some fabulous art — and even funnier, the snapshots make me recall the time they got us thrown out of a great museum.
When my son Ben was 4 years old, we paid a visit to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. His older brother had just learned about Vincent van Gogh and wanted to see some of his work up close.
Somewhere between Manet and Monet, Ben had exhausted his museum tolerance and wanted to head back to the hotel. We kept leading him along, but he had clearly had enough. After a long afternoon, we finally made it to Vincent. Ben got a little too close to one of the paintings, and a gigantic security guard warned him not to touch the art. Ben then raised his sticky little finger and touched the 120-year old masterpiece.
Did I mention that the large security guard was huge? He then stood in front of Ben and said that if he touched anything else, we would be escorted out of the museum. No sooner then the word “escorted” left his tongue, Ben did a quick spin move and planded a finger from his other, even stickier, hand onto the painting.
It was a long, quiet cab ride back to the hotel.
I bring up this story because last week, Ben gave my wife and me an unexpected museum tour. He was our very own private docent, if you will. He had seen a sneak preview of the Neuberger Museum of Art’s exhibit of Betsabee Romero’s work, so when we arrived at the opening, he proudly and expertly showed us around. He talked about form, space, order and the materials she uses in her art, and even some of the cultural messages hidden therein. It was clear that his lifetime of art appreciation was finally starting to show its green shoots.
This exhibit is in our own back yard in Purchase and would be a great show to share with your kids. Romero uses an eclectic mix of objects such as car parts, paper and chewing gum. Sounds like I’m describing my first car.
Ben liked to share with us not only how some of the art looked, but how it smelled. The sweet aroma of the chicle that Romero uses is much more aromatic than that giant shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde at the Met — which is also a fun place to take the kids, and happens to be in our front yard.
We are fortunate that Scarsdale's public school system values art education, but it is up to us as parents to nurture what the kids learn in school and take it to the net level. Rainy day trips to a museum — or even a paint-your-own pottery place — can lead to lasting memories... and maybe even a lopsided “World's #1 Dad” mug.