Art Can Awaken

We show up at the art museum without any real plan. Two of us brought cameras; one of the kids packed a sketch pad and pencils; our eldest stuffed gadgets into her pockets to listen to music, text friends and check Facebook; and the Belgian Wonder and our son carried nothing, free to consider the artwork unencumbered and undistracted.We wander through the European gallery, pausing here and there to admire a piece that catches someone’s eye.My son favors three-dimensional art like vases, bowls and sculptures.My camera-toting daughter is capturing her favorite works in megapixels, often murmuring, “I really like that one.” Curious, I slip over and take a look. She seems to prefer muted colors, landscapes in soft grays and browns.The sketch-pad girl creates her own quick pencil-on-paper version of a blue boat against an other-worldly yellow background and later, a sculpture of two gamboling deer.I prefer paintings, leaning in to admire thick brush stroke’s texture, wondering how the artists saw not once but twice—first the actual scene or subject matter, and then the version in their minds that they committed to canvas using lines, curves, splotches and color.Along the way, I find I’m unexpectedly moved by some of the works, though I don’t have much time to ponder why. The effect is as subtle and brief as the tapping of a pond’s still surface, which stirs a series of ripples that nod and flatten. I feel it, and then it fades.I know that art can do this: it can tap the water’s surface and even cause a splash.Art, I’m told, can awaken, unlock and touch deep and secret places inside us. I feel that these artists invite me to stop and stare. I can stand where they stood and see what they saw…or what they want to reveal.But I don’t have time to explore this deeply or wonder about its power, because on this family outing, not everyone is drawn to the same thing, so we keep moving along.As we work our way through the American gallery, the kids’ interest fades dramatically each time we turn a corner and encounter another collection. I am lingering near a Tiffany stained glass window, pondering the words—a passage from Ephesians 5, to be precise—and soon hear someone in our party sighing heavily. I leave the window to find the youngest actually curled up on an empty bench as if to nap.Art can awaken, and art can put some to sleep. I notice that even the sketchbook has been slid into a bag and the camera tucked away.It’s time to leave.As we pull away, the kids are visibly tired; yet, though I can’t explain it, I find myself more awake than ever.


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  • Comments

    1. Art can awaken – the art in this very museum awakened my own soul the day after you were there. (I wish we could have gone together!). In fact, I snapped a photo of the same stained-glass, and marveled that it was commissioned by the wife of president Benjamin Harrison on his passing. The light illuminating the angel as resurrection dawns hope to the dying. I was moved by that piece and so many others. When I write about it, I’ll link back to here.

      • annkroeker says:

        Looking forward to your piece.

        Maybe sometime we can travel together in the same vehicle, but split up in the museum and then arrive at the same time and place to compare notes, split up again, etc. I think I need some alone time, to go at my own pace, think my own thoughts, stand and stare without worrying about anyone else.

        If I knew you were free to do the same, and yet we could share our revelations, that would be very nice indeed.

    2. I love art museums but prefer to go by myself so I can enjoy the art at my own pace. Once in a while when I visit my parents near D.C., I go to the Smithsonian museums, such as the National Gallery of Art or the Freer-Sackler museums. Free admission is always appreciated. For me, a camera is absolutely essential. I can go a little faster knowing I have a picture.

      I also love botanical gardens. They are like living art museums. We went to the Orlando one (Leu Gardens) today with four kids. One son is an avid photographer and can spend 30 minutes with a single flower bed. We kept losing him. I was snapping quick pics with my iPod – no fiddling around! I did a photo shoot there last summer ( and another one at Longwood Gardens (indoors) in Pennsylvania last winter ( I like to get pics of the same plant from different angles and distances.

      • annkroeker says:

        Very nice, Virginia–I love the idea of going alone to the museum, and I definitely will take a camera, even if only on my phone, to have pieces to ponder later. I regret that I didn’t photograph the informational sign after every piece of artwork I snapped.

        Have you been to the Meijer gardens in Michigan? I went there once, and it was very nice.

    3. Barb Knuckles says:

      The rest of the windows are at Redeemer Presbyterian, in the Harrison Center at 16th and Delaware. I like knowing where this piece of liturgical art belonged before it became an “art object” in a museum. I’m glad it is safe in the museum, and thus survived the building’s transitions intact, but it leaves a very pronounced blank place where it used to be.

      • annkroeker says:

        Oh! Charity and I will come down and see it–thanks, Barb, for the tip. I would prefer to see its siblings in their intended setting.

    4. We have the Morse museum here in Orlando, which has a very large Tiffany collection. They occasionally have free admission. I think they restrict photography, as does the Orlando Museum of Art.

      I also like browsing through on-line art museums. There are several excellent ones. I often link to them when I give assignments for our home school co-op English class. I love to integrate art and music. You can see some of this at

      • annkroeker says:

        We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the modern art for copyright reasons, they said. My photography-lovin’ daughter and I were bummed.

        I like looking at online museums, too, Virginia. Thanks for the reminder that I can see art in some form right at my fingertips!

    5. Another thing to note is that many botanical gardens have sculpture, stained glass and other art. Leu Gardens has a collection of whimsical bronze pieces by Peter Otfinoski. I’ll post a blog link when I upload today’s photos.

      • annkroeker says:

        Good reminder! That Meijer Garden has a gigantic horse statue–it looks like a duplicate of the one that da Vinci designed…and some cute stuff in a children’s section. I’ll bet I could dig up my snapshots, too, from somewhere in my photo archives.

    6. This is a lovely, slightly wistful post today, Ann. Thank you for it. I don’t do museums often enough, generally only doing so when traveling to new places. We have a fairly decent one here in Santa Barbara and I think I’ve only been there three times in almost 15 years. Shame on me! And we have some grand ones in Los Angeles – and I don’t go there often either. Don’t quite know why, because I always love it when I get there. Inertia, I suppose. But we did do one Van Gogh exhibit in Amsterdam about two years ago that moved me to the core. I don’t think I can put into words exactly why, except that I was just overwhelmed by the sadness of this great artist’s life and the creative genius of his work. I actually think going alone is a really good idea – you can set your own pace and reflect all you want. Really like this whole piece. A lot.

      • annkroeker says:

        Diana, thank you for your comment. Yes, I suppose I do feel a little wistful, longing for the ripples to wobble inside again.

        Several years ago, we drove to the Art Institute in Chicago twice to see a Van Gogh exhibit–I think they borrowed some from the Van Gogh museum in Holland…perhaps some of the works that stirred you, that were hung back in their permanent home.

        If you slip into an art museum, do write about it. I know you would have a story to go with it. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated Charity’s posts when she writes about art. I wish I’d gone to see the big food paintings she wrote about.

    7. Love that tapping of the pond’s surface. I think I felt a splash clear over here in Iowa. :)

      • annkroeker says:

        Ah, sigh…yes, I was a little surprised, as I don’t think of myself as an artist or even one who knows much about art appreciation. I just went there and made observations, and then, a couple of them tugged at me, or poked, or “woo’d” me. I don’t know. What is it that art does? I’d like to go back and see if I can discover the answer to that experientially.

    8. Felt like I was walking through the museum with you and I am sure I would’ve felt the same way you did and my kids would yawn after a brief walk through. I could stare at artwork for a long while on a bench (and make up stories in my head about the paintings!). Lovely!

      • annkroeker says:

        Shelly, it’s so nice to meet you! I love learning and trying new things, so I’d like to return without the crew stringing through the galleries and sighing heavily.

        If you go on your own sometime soon, write about it and let me know!

    9. Barb Knuckles says:

      The rest of the windows are not figurative, nor are they Tiffany, but they are quite beautiful with an unusual range of rich colors including purples and violets. The patterns are lovely, too, with lots of curves.

      My dad took us kids on regular excursions through the Art Institute in Chicago. I am glad for the exposure to art, but the trips usually lasted longer than I could bear, especially when walking all day on stone floors. He was interested in the landscapes; I was partial to the mysteries of old religious paintings that were dark and graphic and inscrutable, with Latin written on scrolls and banners.
      Their images very much of a different place and time, absolutely unlike the nice safe pictures I saw in Sunday School. I was pretty sure that they were scandalous, so they they were all the more fascinating to me in their gritty and otherworldly glory.

      • annkroeker says:

        I like color. And patterns. And curves. :)

        Barb, I LOVE the Art Institute. I’ve been exactly three times and dragged my kids with me all three times. I want to go back. With the kids. Without.

        We have a photo somewhere of our sweet little girls grinning all innocent, standing in front of a gigantic, graphic, gruesome painting of John the Baptist’s beheading.

        The juxtaposition…well, you just have to see it. I’m going to dig around for it, but I think it was long enough ago that it is in print rather than digital.

        • Barb Knuckles says:

          YES! I remembered that one from my childhood and did not know where to find it again. It is a series of panels and in the last one, his head is cut off and his neck is spouting blood out the window onto the street. Bethany and I found it again a couple of years ago. There was a painting nearby with a finely detailed dragon the size of a German Shepherd and I think the dragon has peacock feathers, which made sense upon reflection. And then there’s the one of the saint holding his tongue. Literally. The one that moves me most is the Zurburan crucifixion…so simple, so stark, so silent.

    10. “how the artists saw not once but twice” … And those are just the two frames we can (sometimes) see. Think of all the rippling, nodding frames — flickering in the in-between.

      • annkroeker says:

        Yes, yes…ripples throughout time, artist to viewer to viewer to viewer…thank you for that visual, Matthew.

    11. It has been years since we visited a real art museum. Our bank displays paintings for sale by local artists and I enjoy them, but they are not the same. I loved the stain glass window and the fact that your children had enjoyed the day but were getting tired! Nap time!

      • annkroeker says:

        What a lovely gift of your bank to support local art! Our library has some very lovely displays, and I often zoom right past en route to whatever book I want. There’s art right in my path–I need to pause and take it in wherever I encounter it. Even the crazy sculpture in the middle of a roundabout on the way to the soccer field. Can’t stop driving in a roundabout. Maybe I should park in the neighborhood next to it and take some time to ponder it?

    12. I was in serious envy that two of my daughters, then 18 and 20, got to visit several art museums in France and Italy. The Louvre, Uffizi, the Vatican, and more. Oy! At least they took pictures. One of them is a professional photographer and they both have strong aesthetic sensibilities.

    13. This post reminds me of my experience at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I cried the entire time I was there. The depth of emotion conveyed in the work was overwhelming, I felt very alive.

      • annkroeker says:

        I’d love to go there sometime. We drove up to Chicago to see a special Van Gogh/Gauguin exhibit several years ago, and I loved it so much I drove up a second time before the exhibit ended. They pulled in several famous works of Van Gogh (and Gauguin), including Starry Night and a few from the museum in Amsterdam. I felt so privileged to see it all under one roof.

    14. I love this Ann. I’m going to quote you in my Monday post — working on it now! Great timing….


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