I’ve been to the Art Institute of Chicago on many occasions. It’s one of my favorite places there is. In the museum there is a gallery, of course, devoted to impressionism. Few major art museums do not have one of these. There is a room, one of my favorite rooms, in fact, which contains the lovely Georges Seurat painting Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte, or, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Many people know it as That huge-ass painting made of tiny-ass dots. Nearly seven feet tall and ten feet wide, this thing demands your attention when you enter the room. If somehow you manage to miss the large painting on the wall, you can never fail to see the crowd grouped around waiting to shove their way to the front to take photos.
This is not the sole reason I love this room, though. I think a lot of people enter and leave this room after seeing Georges’ painting and completely ignore the great corner on the opposite side of the room. There’s some Paul Signac over there and some Henri Edmond Cross, both pieces employing styles inspired by Georges Seurat. Maybe they aren’t as big as Seurat’s, and he’s the main pointillism guy, but those two paintings are magnificent and a part of me almost despises the fact that I can look at them up close for two straight minutes sometimes without another person trying to snap a picture or see it closer.
That’s another thing that I don’t understand. Why do so many people spend their time in art museums taking photographs of the artwork? There will always be images online of the greater works that have higher resolution and better lighting than what the typical camera can manage. I have been guilty of this on many occasions, but I now think it’s silly to wander around the art museum to snap pictures. The reason to go to the museums is to see the art in person. You can view paintings as seen through camera lenses while in your pajamas at home, and you won’t get that terrible soreness of the legs and lower back induced by gallery gallivanting.
One of my favorite things about viewing paintings in person is the ability to see the brush strokes. Not just the changes in color or lightness, but the physical ridges often visible. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy the work of Van Gogh so much. When I see his paintings in museums, it’s so much more fulfilling than just looking at images online. (Except for this image of his Starry Night painting from the google art project where you can zoom in crazily close and see the cracks in each brush stroke. That gives me chills every time. Wow.) I dream of the opportunity to see something by Leonid Afremov in person. I think I would cry. Colors as vibrant as his should be illegal.
So, if you ever have the chance, go to the Art Institute of Chicago and walk around for a while. Make sure to stop by the lovely gallery 240 and make sure to view both the great Sunday Afternoon, but also make sure you don’t skip past Beach at Cabasson or Les Andelys, Côte d’Aval. You won’t regret it. And if you do, you won’t have shoved your way through a crowd of people before getting a nice view.