We only had one day that we could have visited the museum on our trip, so we got on the train and headed downtown. It’s amazing how different the world works when you’re out of your twenties. When I was in school, what I’m realizing now is how naive I was. I didn’t really have the emotional landscape to take it all in. We split up and went to our different areas, catching up with the frequency of pace that we both have when we’re in art museums. I look at art all the time, so generally, I’m looking at field studies during viewing experiences and getting really close and seeing the brushwork that causes so many of the effects, but at a certain point, it just hit me. This was centuries of lives devoted to art, representing entire epochs of time across thousands of years. That’s not something I really ever expected that I would see once I was inside. I always thought this trip would be like a homecoming, but it’s so much more. Chicago is a deeper and more rich experience than I could have ever imagined visiting as an adult.
I watched more than a hundred moments in time captured in painting and sculpture, and then when I finally got to the room of Monets, my heart literally split open, Here was light, across fields and forests, that I could have never anticipated. Monet can only be experienced in person. It’s vibrant and in the context of other parts of the museum, it almost made me cry. It took years to get to this point, but finally, after years of study, art meant so much to me that I could literally be moved emotionally in a profound way that I just couldn’t expect. It was the most emotional day I could have imagined at the museum.
Then I realized I had seen too much art and needed a break. The museum is enormous, and if you’re really analyzing paintings, you can’t process more than a few hours to really take it all in, so I looked for a place to sit. In a courtyard, there were almost a hundred empty light green seats placed haphazardly and without seeming composition across a field almost the distance of the museum. No one was there, so. walked out and sat down and looked at the museum map. And there I looked up and thought, am I with the solid absence of all the artists I looked at that day around me. I imagined I was. That’s how precious human life is, we leave a little behind but we’re not here forever. We make the best of it in the time we have, and that’s what artists really do, we’re trying to leave this world a little better than how we found it, and one day we will take our place among those empty seats. Gone, but our presence, the sheer weight of our absence remains. Was anyone there among those empty seats, probably not, but they existed in my mind. Perhaps that’s what our memories are, we keep our loved ones when they have gone deep within our hearts and minds, and there we can find something. Life, as persistent as the wind in the city, the soul moving throughout space, almost can’t be denied in the weight of our memory.
I sat a few more minutes, got up, and went throughout the day. But I was lost in thought. The next time I go to the Art Institute I may just look at a few pieces at a time, because now, art means so much more to me than it ever did before. And that is the gift of returning to a home that is so different from the one you left more than a decade ago. It’s there, changed, like the contours of our own hearts, deep within the mind, from forest to city, and back to the forest. I am so grateful for our time here. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m seeing Chicago for the first time. If you live here don’t take it for granted, this city has a spirit all to itself, and that is profound and beautiful. Just a few more days here, but if travel can change us, this certainly changed me. I grew up here at the Art Institute, both in my early youth and then as an adult. It’s a pilgrimage I intend to make every so often, in this beautiful place, so magnificent, a world that just gets richer at every step. It hasn’t been easy being here. But I love this city. LIfe is so precious, let’s take care of it in all we do, for Chicago as a city can never fully be understood, and that is the beauty of life. It taught me, finally, to forgive and let go.