Museums, formed from the heart

A moment frozen in time at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, June 2014

A moment frozen in time at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, June 2014

“In poetically well built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of Time.”
Orhan Pamuk

On a recent day while Matt was at camp, Jeff took a day off from work and we went to the National Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian.  Since we intended to spend the day, we thought we might be able to work in a quick trip to the Freer and Sackler galleries as well.  I had forgotten how magnificently endless the National Gallery feels when one is inside.

Daddy recently sent me an interesting article about the Wyeth exhibit, which I was anxious to see, and there was a special exhibit about Degas and Cassatt, along with a celebration of new acquisitions from the works of Van Gogh.  So I knew we would be there awhile, but I had not recalled the enormity of the permanent collection, and the sheer beauty of the building itself.

We did not even make it to the newer East Building of the National Gallery, let alone to the Freer or Sackler.  In fact, we could have spent hours more in the main building where we started.  Pamuk is right when he says we lose all sense of time at a museum, and that can be a great consolation, especially when the past months have found us frequently engulfed in pain or sorrow.

If you are within driving distance of a good art museum, or plan to be near one during your upcoming travels, you might enjoy making time to visit there for at least a couple of hours.  Even if you’re like Jeff and me, and have no particular knowledge of art, you are sure to enjoy the feeling of losing yourself in a place where beauty and universal significance are celebrated.

“Poetically well built” is an excellent description for almost all of the art museums I’ve ever been in, so you might begin feeling rejuvenated even before you glimpse the first painting.  As you visit a museum or gallery, I wish you the singular consolation Pamuk describes.  In a museum, we are reminded of so much that unites us at heart, despite the differences that separate us.

One year ago today:

Stand quietly before them


  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    Your experience in the museum is like what you have wisely gleaned from being engulfed in nature. Timelessness is the key. If we are longing for Heaven, do we really expect no clocks, wristwatches, or even smart phones to do like “The Association” says: have “the seventeen jewels that dictate the rules”?

    • And the lines that immediately follow that say “and the time to fly, as we’re passing by, we’ve just got the time to say hello, and then a fast goodbye.”
      How’s that for memories of obscure lyrics to lesser-known songs? (“Traveling Man” was the title, as I recall.) I well remember the timeless afternoon we spent at Muir Woods once when you had a short SFO layover. Since you had to be back for a flight and I had to be back in Solano County to meet Matt’s bus that afternoon, with the legendary Bay Area traffic, timelessness can sometimes be risky! But always worth it.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Yes that particular SFO turn was a “fast flyin’ trip, dirty laundry in my grip (British, you know), mostly drip-dry”.
        Remember the best advice from that song: “a day at a time”.

        • Until you mentioned the British reference, I had always imagined the word “grip” to be used literally – like a guy running onto a plane at the last minute clutching his dirty shirt the forgot to pack from the hotel. It occurred to me that only those of us “of a certain age” will even get what the 17 jewels are referring to. BTW you did know we saw the Association in concert less than a decade ago in — where else — California? When they took the stage singing “Enter the Young” the lead singer quipped “well, maybe more like “enter the semi-young.” They were still great, though. One of those rare groups who can fill two hours with hit after hit. I still have their Greatest Hits CD, the recording you had in LP form that I practically wore out.

  2. raynard

    Julia you just” bonked’ me over the head about these museum tickets. When I do you will get pics or a video. Next Friday or Next Friday ( no typo or Senior Moment”) is my planned trip to Virginia( first day of my vacation) Heatwave is slowing down here. 8 more days till my vacation.. I remember growing up in school, our field trips were always, The Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park.. I think cause they were in walking distance. Then the tables got turned and they put us on a bus and took us to The Hayden Planetarium.. Wow. i’ve also visited the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and the Liberty Science Center next to The Statue of Liberty. Have you ever been to a Imax movie? Awesome… FYI, they still have drive in movies around, one close by me in South Jersey( NJ) Be blessed

    • Raynard, I’ve only seen one or two IMAX movies because Jeff doesn’t particularly like them, but I love them! I have never been to the Hayden Planetarium but I hope I can go someday. Ditto for the other places you mentioned and I really want to take the time to explore the Ellis Island museum. When you think about it, we are really so wealthy and we seldom take advantage of all the wonders around us. We fret and fume over trivialities and we become like the eccentric millionaire who saves string and never enjoys the riches. I don’t want to be that way. I hope you have a grand time at the museum. Do let me know when you are headed to Virginia. We might be able to line the times up, depending on where we are and when.

  3. raynard

    Julia a friend of ours in church gave us 2 tickets . They are for the Brandywine River Museum. If I get them “used” hold me to sending pictures or making a video to send you.. This heat has been ” a drainer for me”. Also we are spending more time in NJ taking care of her elderly aunt and uncle. Question do you use Skype?. Would love to ” see you and Jeff when you schedule allows. Will let you know late that the middle of next week if ” I’m headed to Virginia Beach either next Friday or ” Next Friday” No this isnt a typo or “

    • I had never heard of that museum so I just looked it up, it looks as if it would be a wonderful place to visit! I see they have a good collection of Wyeth paintings which would be reason enough to go in itself, but it looks like there are lots of other great things to see as well. Do send me some photos or a video! I am glad you are helping with your wife’s aunt and uncle, that is more important than going to a museum, though both are important. I do use Skype sometimes, mostly to see Grady, though a few other bloggers and I did have a “Skype Tea Party” recently which was a lot of fun. We had a lot of technical issues and I’m not too good at using it yet but I’m getting better. I will be watching for your VA Beach schedule. We don’t usually get into the area until late on Friday but if you are there on a Saturday we might be able to meet up.

  4. bobmielke

    When I was first introduced to photography I was amazed that that tiny device could stop and preserve time. People never age in photographs. You can pick one up twenty years from when you took it and they remain frozen in time. I suppose that enlightened moment is what caused me to become a photographer and later a professional taking wedding and family portraits.

    • Yes, photography is amazing to me. It always has been. I used to be fascinated when my father and brother would set up a darkroom in our bathroom and let me watch the photos appear. I love digital photography but there was a magic about seeing that image emerge on the blank paper after it was immersed in the chemicals, something that will never be duplicated in this age of “instant” snapshots. When I took photography in college, once we got into learning the darkroom and all the special effects, I almost forgot I had a camera. Having said that, if someone could have given me a sneak preview of what would be possible with digital photography, I would have been so excited. Photographs are perhaps the most exact way to freeze time. Sometimes when I look at portraits from past centuries I wonder what the living person would really have looked like? I don’t wonder that with photographs, at least not as much.

      • bobmielke

        I often get email from wedding photographers in the Portland area asking for my recommendation for their wedding party photographs. I always tell them Multnomah Falls as it ties the event to a specific time & place forming fond memories for all.

        • Plus it makes a great place to return to for second honeymoons and family vacations (“Your mother and I were married here…”). I have a Christmas Tree ornament of Multnomah Falls – it’s cheap and hardly does the natural beauty justice, but it does bring back fond memories. I’ll have to use one of my photos from there on this blog sometime.

          • bobmielke

            I took my dear friends from South Carolina there and had lunch at the restaurant out the back door. I photographed them at their table with the falls in the background. They loved their time here and will remember the sunset on Cannon Beach, Multnomah Falls, Vista House with its view of the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Hood at Timberline Lodge.

            • I think Oregon is one of the best-kept secrets in the USA. It’s gorgeous but it’s not overrun with tourists as so many other places are (not yet, anyway). Of course, it’s been over 20 years since we were there, and a lot can change during that time. When we saw Crater Lake I couldn’t help but wonder why it wasn’t more famous. The Columbia River Gorge and surrounding areas are equally stunning.

              • bobmielke

                People who see my shots of Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock can’t believe how empty the beaches are. I must remind them that the golden hour of light for photographers is the first daylight and the last hour of light at sundown. Those usually provide the least number of people as well. 🙂

                • That’s a sight I hope to see in person sometime. We never made it to the coast of Oregon but I’ve read descriptions of it that made me really eager to see it.

  5. Michael

    I never made It to the Guggenheim in NYC. Hope to someday. That is a new idea: losing a sense of time in a museum. We do have one new museum in Seattle- MOHAI- which I have yet to visit- museum of history and industry.

    • It was a new idea to me too, until I thought about it and realized Pamuk hit the nail on the head there. That is exactly what happens to me when I am in a museum. It’s almost like being lost in a good book, except it’s three-dimensional. It opens new worlds. I never had the slightest interest in the history of whaling until I strolled into the small but excellent museum in Maui. WOW. Instant fascination!

  6. HarryS

    Psalm 139:14
    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.

    • Harry, I love that verse. Though some days, I am more aware of the “fearfully” than the “wonderfully!”

  7. Michael

    If you are interested in whaling there is a neat documentary on Netflix- think it is called just the Whalers that outlines the history of these folks. The lifestyle of the long range whaler was horrific and in some sense much worse than the lot of a slave. And they lift up the life of the real life ship that inspired Melville to write his little book.
    I think I have been to that museum you mention and the Hyatt in Mauii has some original whale oil boiling pots used as planters at their beach entrance.

    • I’m sure I would really find that film interesting. We don’t have Netflix but maybe it is also available at the library; those educational ones usually are. What is the name of it? Moby Dick was a phenomenal book, ponderous and slow going at times, but WOW does it pack a punch. Whenever I manage to get through a long classic like that, I always end up thinking that we get out of a book about as much as we put into it. There are exceptions, of course, but on the whole I am usually happy to have spent the time on such works. I need to read Middlemarch again. It might be the best example of what I’m talking about.

  8. Michael

    17 Jewels that dictate the rules? Is that from ” I’m taking some time for living” song. I kicked off my shoes—.” Same song. It is a little early- not firing on all cylinders yet.” Mamas and the Papas.”

    • It’s from a song called Six Man Band. (I got the title wrong in my comment to Eric earlier.) It’s from the same album as “Time for Living.” The group is The Association, who (like the Mamas and Papas) captured the best of the California sound of the 60’s. (I was never a Beach Boy fan; can you tell?) I assume you are old enough to know what the 17 jewels refer to? In fact, you probably had more than one “17 jewel” accessory yourself, long ago! I know I did.

  9. Rene

    I love the way you juxtaposed Mercury with the seated kids. I love to mentally “get lost” in a museum (did you ever read “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” when you were a kid? I have a sudden urge to read it again. I got a job teaching 5th grade this year, I wonder what today’s youth would think of the book?

    • Rene, I have that book, but don’t remember reading it; I may have read it to my kids when they were younger. I think Jeff and Matt read it together. It’s a modern classic that is often praised in educational circles, and I imagine today’s students would like it. I probably need to try to read it (again, or for the first time). I really enjoy good literature for young people. Congratulations on the job! Fourth and fifth grade were my favorite school years, except maybe for grade 12.

      • Rene

        Thank you! I’m excited and terrified. 😀

        • I’m very happy for you! I think that’s an ideal age for school. If I was a teacher, that’s probably the age I would want to teach.

  10. Michael

    I think it was just called” Whaling”. The ship that went down was the” Merrick” out of Nantucket. The survivors drew lots about who they would eat next- a gruesome tale of six months at sea.
    Let’s see 17 jewels? A transistor radio? A Rolex- had a fake one?
    The Association also did”Cherie is a Name.” Beautiful song.

    • Michael, almost all watch makers in those days boasted of their better watches being created with “17 jewels” – and often had the words “17 jewels” written on the face of the watch itself. I think jewels were used in other mechanical applications (possibly in radios) but the “17 jewel” description was the one common for watches. Are you thinking of this song from the Association? It’s my second favorite of all the wonderful songs they did. (My number one favorite by them being Requiem for the Masses.) When I hear music like theirs, I say without apology “they just don’t make pop music hits like they used to.” 🙂 I would not have wanted to grow up in any other era. I really mean that.

  11. Michael

    That Is the song and when I hear it I think of a particular old high school crush. I think that song was one of the favorite slow dance numbers for our little high school dances.

    • I can imagine it would be. I think it’s a lovely song even apart from the words, but they managed to make a perfect connection to that wistful sadness the words express.

  12. Michael

    I don’t even remember the other wonderful song-“Requiem.” You have to be grateful to grow up with songs like that.

    • Yes, and don’t even get me started on Simon and Garfunkel! Of all the music I’m grateful to have grown up with, theirs is near the top of the list!

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