There are many reasons for going to museums, and we probably share all those reasons: curiosity, a search for beauty, a good meal (in many museums there are excellent eating facilities), to acquire a sense of culture, to learn. And over the years, we have been devoted museum attendees, in all sorts of places, from a carpet museum in Iran to a riverboat museum in Jefferson, Texas, to a mind-blowing exhibit of original Van Goghs in Paris.
Because we are fortunate to live in a city with several world-class museums, we try to go often, but circumstances had prevented us from doing so for quite a long time. So recently we took ourselves to one of our favorites, to see an exhibit of Impressionist paintings that was winding down. Since the exhibit has been going for several weeks, we thought that this would be the perfect day to avoid crowds, have lunch, and enjoy the exhibit. Wow, were we wrong, at least about the crowds. The museum opened at noon on this day of the week, so we arrived just after noon, to find streams of people all headed toward the museum as if something free was being given away. Not deterred, we parked and headed in and toward the restaurant, planning to eat first. Since we usually go there in as much of an ‘off’ time as possible, we were amazed. A line to wait for lunch, although the line moved efficiently, then a line to the exhibit itself, which was wonderful.
What was not wonderful was the effect of many people, who had rented audio phones to listen to information about the exhibit rather than reading the information displayed with each painting. People who use audio phones suffer from the same ‘obliviosity’ exhibited by people who drive cars and talk on their phones. The folks with the audio phones would walk right up to a painting, not aware of the people already there, and there they would stay until whatever spiel was playing had finished. One had the impression that they felt anointed by the audio phone with a dispensation to disregard anyone around them. We learned to stay out of their way and then approach whichever painting appealed to us. And not every painting did. Because art speaks to individuals, not to everyone. But there were many paintings, more than we expected, that we found quite splendid.
And after we managed to squelch our frustration with the oblivious and inconsiderate fellow attendees, a thought occurred to us. Here was a beautiful summer day, and yet all sorts of people of all ages and backgrounds were here at this museum, having spent fair sums of money to see this exhibit. And there were really lots and lots of people. So regardless of our national addictions to cell phones and ‘reality’ TV shows and automobile races and other mindless preoccupations, lots and lots of people were willing to spend time and treasure to simply spend some time with timeless beauty.