Stand agape if you will, but we've done it: We took our three
sons, ages 11, 9 and 6, to an art museum yesterday.
First, of course, we had to endure the pre-game commentary: "I
don't like art museums, they're boring." ("You've never been to one.") "Can
I bring my Game Boy?" ("Only for the car ride.") "When's dinner?" ("At
In the car, David, Benjamin and Jonathan alternate amusing and
infuriating one another. The sight of a yellow Volkswagen sets in motion a
chant: "Blue punch bunny no punch back black out! Banana car banana car
banana car banana car . . ." this goes on until the victim can find
something yellow to touch. Sometimes they merrily entertain themselves this
way. But suddenly, someone having had his fill, he will shout, "STOP!" and
as sure as God made little boy tempers, the offender will not stop, thus
necessitating a parental warning. But for long periods of time, as the
silliness needle goes off the meter, they have a rollicking good time. "The
lad's gone mad," David merrily announces about his little brother Benjamin,
as Ben turns to Jon and declaims, "Bonjour, Monsieur Omelet de fromage."
(Hello, Mr. Cheese Omelet.)
David, 9, was most skeptical about the outing. "Why do people
think canvasses splattered with paint are beautiful?" I explain about
Jackson Pollock and add that we'll be focusing more on representational art.
Benjamin, 6, who has already been introduced to Pollock by his friend and my
assistant, Jeanne Massey, nevertheless spots one of his works soon after we
enter the National Gallery and charges off to inspect it. He is delighted
and asks if this is
the canvas Pollock painted or a
copy. When I tell him it's the real thing, he is impressed. He says nothing
but throws back his little shoulders a bit to mark the presence of
One of the marvelous things about living in the Washington,
D.C., area is the ready availability of the Smithsonian museums -- treasure
houses on subjects as varied as space, natural history and art -- and all
available year-round for free. We're old veterans of most of the
museums, but this was the boys' first trip to the National Gallery. What
they found (and two of three admitted to loving the place) was that the
building itself is a work of art, with a central atrium featuring gorgeous
marble columns circling a fountain. David recognized Hermes in the center,
and all tossed coins.
We began with sculpture, thinking it would be the most
accessible art form to boys, but Jon got giggly about the naked bodies, and
David couldn't see what was so great about severed body parts. We explained
about Greeks and ruins, and he understood, but we pressed on to American art
There, amid the Hoppers and Sargents, our sons discovered art.
They were amazed that artists could capture a reflection on water, a dewdrop
on a flower and the drape of a curtain. They could not believe the intricacy
of pointillist painting and wondered how long the artist must have labored
to produce such a thing.
We paused for snack time and listened to the soothing splash of
the fountain, feeling, for all the world, as if cloistered. Beauty is not
truth, but it does approach a kind of peace and a sense of wonder. Human
beings, for all their obvious shortcomings and fatal flaws, are capable of
sublime accomplishments, and art is one of them.
After exclaiming over the giant Calder mobile and clucking at a
monstrous tapestry in the modern wing, we headed home. The boys were hungry.
Ben's legs were tired. And all three badly wanted to get at their paper and