s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Disorganized thoughts after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Disorganized thoughts after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time

It turns out that I don’t actually like art. Illustration? Yes. Design? Absolutely. But not so much art.

I just don’t get it, I guess. I look at it, and I’m supposed to have some sort of emotional reaction, apparently, and I keep looking at it and my mind starts wandering and I wonder how long I have to look at it before I’m allowed to give up and move on.

I like illustration because I figure that I can just like the picture without being monumentally affected by it, and I like design because there’s usually something to “figure out” about why it’s put together the way it is, but pure art is just confusing.

My only stipulations on visiting the museum were that we allow for ample time at the gift shop, and that we see Seurat’s most famous painting. Otherwise, Melyngoch and I traipsed around from room to room, her appreciating art all willy-nilly, me hoping there was an illustration or design exhibit hiding somewhere.


An actual quote from the day’s conversation:

Melyngoch: Do you like this painting?
Katya: I like the frame . . .

I also liked the parquet flooring, point of fact. I noticed three different patterns. (Two sort of looked the same but they actually weren’t)


In addition to not liking art, generally, I specifically dislike impressionism. However this may have less to do with the school of art, itself, and more to do with the clique of snobby girls in my junior high school who had all been to France and who all claimed to adore impressionism.


I saw the original of
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, which was amazing. It’s a cliché to say that reproductions don’t do justice to original art, but if you figure that the sample rate in most reproductions is necessarily a small fraction of the dot-rate in the original pointillist painting . . . you end up missing the entire point of the work in a postcard-sized reprint. (Of course, this didn’t stop me from buying a postcard of the painting, anyway.)


Melyngoch and I had contrary reactions to almost every painting. I found the ones she liked overwhelming and disorganized and she found the ones I liked cold and sterile. We did, in sum, both like two paintings (or one painting and one board with nails hammered into it), although I suspect that we liked them for contrasting reasons.

Near the end of our trip, we came across a gallery devoted to the architectural design (!) of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. I spent a happy half-hour gazing at balustrades and elevator screens. (So rapt was Melyngoch that she excused herself to visit the ladies’ room.)


I don’t adore Frank Lloyd Wright. I prefer his work to that of a lot of artists, but he’s well behind Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the (newly-discovered) Louis Sullivan on my list of favorite designers.

(I don’t know how much of this is a snobbery based in obscurity, since Wright is fairly well known.)


The gift shop was fabulous.

I’m a big fan of gift shops in general, often preferring them to actual exhibits. (Even though they obviously contain images of a lot of the same artwork, it’s somehow more manageable when it’s scaled down and reproduced en masse.)

I bought a card for my grandma and a postcard for my brother and a set of little magnetic block-y things that you can use to make designs. And I flipped through a bunch of art history books, and later remembered a set of books that my mom has always wanted, so I think her Christmas present is probably taken care of.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic, for many reasons. One of them is that a significant portion of the movie takes place in the galleries of The Art Institute of Chicago. Another reason is that it features Matthew Broderick lip-synching to The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” in what is probably the second best Chicago parade scene in film history. (First prize goes to The Fugitive, of course.)


At August 28, 2006 1:18 AM, Blogger Tolkien Boy said...

You made me jealous, really. Are there art museums in Seattle that aren't totally overcome by modernism?

At August 28, 2006 9:43 AM, Blogger Lindsay said...

If you liked the painting of Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, you should check out the topiary intrepretation of it in the Old Deaf School Park in downtown Columbus, OH. It is something else I tell you.

At August 28, 2006 12:23 PM, Blogger Becca said...

This post reminds me of a rainy Friday in D.C...

At August 28, 2006 3:54 PM, Blogger Nectar said...

I actually spent my entire visit to the National Art Museum in Washington, D.C. - in the gift shop.

At August 29, 2006 4:39 PM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

I liked the board with nails because it was sort of reminiscent of something (fur? water?) and also reminiscent of nothing at all. You liked it . . . because . . . it was . . . sort . . . of . . . organized? (Trying to think like you hurts my brain.)

At August 29, 2006 7:37 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Tolkien Boy - I don't know, but I do know that Seattle is full of Chihuly installations, which makes me jealous of you.

becca - Indeed. (But I actually liked most of the stuff at the Freer/Sackler.)

Melyngoch - Yeah, that's probably about right. There were interesting things to figure out about it.

At September 01, 2006 12:11 AM, Blogger Wilhelmina Wafflewitz said...

I like how you put asterisks in between each disorganized thought. It broke up the post nicely so it didn't seem so overwhelmingly huge and long that I would decide I'd try to read it later.

At September 01, 2006 9:55 AM, Blogger Katya said...

Hmm. So even my disorganized thoughts are organized . . .

At September 06, 2006 6:26 PM, Blogger Queen Zippergut said...

I love Chihuly! When I went to Venice in June I dearly wished he had even one piece still in place over a canal from the show he did years ago. Ah well.

At September 12, 2006 10:35 AM, Blogger erin said...

I love impressionism... sorry. :)

I wish I were coming to Chicago. But I'm not. Annoying. Grr. Maybe I should just make a trip out there just for fun. Maybe next year before Melyngoch leaves!

At September 12, 2006 6:16 PM, Blogger Th. said...


Didn't you enjoy channeling Ferris Bueller though?


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