A.J. and his mother made a trip to the Art Institute a few days ago. They’ve been reading the kids’ book Chasing Vermeer and A.J. had the idea of seeing some Vermeer paintings for himself. Honestly, I don’t remember being all that enthused about 17th century Dutch genre painters when I was a kid, but then A.J. is a little different.
I don’t know if the two of them actually got to see any Vermeer. When they returned home, all the talk was about the miniatures collection and a Richard Misrach photo exhibit. And A.J. had a new viewfinder, with slides of a dozen or so works from the Art Institute collection. I asked him which was his favorite, and he showed me Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” I told him I liked Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom, and A.J. said he wanted to take another look at it. After looking, he announced that he liked that one, too.
Then, because I have this annoying habit of trying to turn too many conversations into teachable moments, I decided to quiz him about the Van Gogh. I asked him if he thought the room looked peaceful or scary. He thought for a second, then he said, “I don’t know, I guess it looks peaceful.”
I said, “Okay, but to me it looks kind of scary.” A.J. looked at it again and asked me what I meant. I said, “Well, maybe it doesn't look scary, maybe it just looks a little creepy.” A.J. looked at it again, and said, “Yeah, I see what you mean. It kind of looks like it’s going to come alive.”
I said, “You know what, that’s a great way to put it. I think that’s exactly what it looks like.”
A.J. looked pleased with himself, and then we put the viewfinder away. He wanted to play some football in the yard. Van Gogh was a nice painter and all, but postimpressionism can’t really compete with two-hand touch.