A visit to the museum: On Cézanne and tourists

The Basket of Apples

As part of our training, new faculty members at Shimer College sit in on one of the core curriculum courses that is outside our teaching comfort zone. In my case, it’s Humanities 1: Art and Music, which carries with it a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, due to the generosity of some alumni donors. The Girlfriend and I went a couple weeks ago to check out the recently added Modern Wing, and we took the standard approach of trying to “cover” the entire area. Our favorite piece was this video installation by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, which had three videos playing simultaneously, displaying (at least at first) three angles on the same scene. Sure enough, before long Ahtila was flying through the forest.

We enjoyed our visit, but as we were walking back to the train, I wondered what we had really gotten out of our rush tour. Here is all this great art that people have devoted whole careers to studying, and we’re giving thirty seconds as a baseline to each piece, maybe stopping to look for a couple minutes if something catches our eye. The Girlfriend agreed in principle, but pointed out that neither of us knows enough about art to know which paintings are really worth spending more time with — better to cast a wide net.

The professor recommended that we go back this weekend to look at their Cézanne holdings, as we were going to discuss several of his paintings on Monday and then were reading Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne for Wednesday. I went for about an hour yesterday afternoon and managed to find a wall that had five Cézanne works, which was apparently the extent of what they’re showing currently. While I didn’t match Rilke’s record of spending two hours studying a single canvas, the amount of time I was able to spend on each painting made it a new experience for me.

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