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Beauty & Forgiveness in Chicago

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After the darkness, morning came. Chris had only been asleep a few hours, so he skipped out on going to the Art Institute with me. There were only three things I wanted to do on this Chicago trip, and he opted out of all of them. I was more than a little miffed, but it wasn’t because I was left to my own devices. It was just disappointing to think about all that he was missing. (That’s the clean, pretty version of events, anyway.)

The day was perfect. It had warmed up and the sun was shining brightly in a blue sky. I arrived a few minutes prior to the Art Institute opening, but there were already people in line, so I joined the assembly between the two sentinel lions. The last time I was here was for a story I had been assigned on gift ideas from the museum gift shop (they provided a bag of goodies including a lion-topped pen that I have to this day). I hadn’t known at the time that my relationship was going to end, so it had been a happy occasion. This was another one, as I embraced another opportunity to brush up against beauty. Art museums, and beauty in general, will always calm, or at least mollify, a raging mind.

This balm began before I even entered the main building, with the spring bulbs in bloom around the nearby courtyard. So many people think that the art on the walls is the main draw for a museum – for me it’s always been the whole experience – all the incidental space and architecture – that serves such a satisfying end. On this day, the flowers and the sun and the sky conspired to craft a memorable entrance to the Art Institute, and I was grateful to witness the co-mingling of prettiness.

I’m never quite sure what to make of some pieces, even the classics. Do we like them because we were basically told to like them from years of historical adulation, or simple ubiquity? A Social Psychology professor once said that if your first reaction to an entity is indifference, or a non-feeling one way or another, upon repeated views we grow to like it more. Familiarity as a designer of friendly feelings, or at least more positive ones than indifference. I sometimes doubt my taste, unsure of whether to give in to my instinct to love one piece over another or shoot a middle-finger to the whole damn process.

Today, those conflicts are far from my frame of mind. I take it all in, wandering leisurely through the Sunday morning crowd, which is rather thin around some of the better-known works.


Is this what the big deal is? I wonder to myself as I wander.

Strolling.

Contemplating.

Discussing memories evoked, techniques employed, historical context, or simply whether or not one likes something or not.

I do it all in my mind.

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.

Is this loneliness or happiness or apathy?

And then the most famous piece in the Art Institute (at least for fans of musical theater).

So many things are at work here, so many layers over which to puzzle and solve, and just as I’m enjoying the play of shadows and light, I realize I need a new bustle in my life. And a parasol for sunny days. The use of it has gone out of fashion for shade, and I cannot fathom why.

A requisite Monet, filled with waterlilies, as my mind fills with recent remembrances of spring flowers just outside the doors. Everything is connected. The larger questions of life, however, are put on hold as I seek out the restaurant on premises for an early lunch.

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