A Lesson in Art Appreciation

If you’re like me, you can’t enjoy a good thing when you have it. You have to find some point to neurotically obsess over until the whole thing is ruined. You know, just to keep things balanced.

So went my visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts, or the DIA, as I am now fond of saying. This place is amazing. It’s a world-class museum right here in my own backyard (ok, the part of my backyard that’s 80 miles away). I was surprised to learn that some very old, very famous works of art reside right here in Detroit. What famous artists am I talking about? Rembrandt! Picasso! Van Gogh! Ever heard of them? See, I said famous and I meant it.

The art lover in me was ecstatic. I tore through the museum like a pinball bouncing off the bumpers, not sure where to look first; the scope of the DIA’s collection is stunning. But the anxious panicker in me was also having a field day. All these paintings were just hanging there on the wall, the same way you would hang a picture in your home: on a hook, not behind ropes, not behind glass, not even behind a line painted on the floor. The only thing stopping me from going up to a 500-year-old Bruegel and licking it was the fact that someone told me not to. (I mean in general, as in the ticket said “Do not touch the art.” I don’t mean I was starting to lick it and then someone came up and said, “Hey, don’t lick that.” Just in case you were wondering.)


The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel, a painting I didn’t lick.

About eight years ago, my husband and daughter simultaneously began having seizures. It turned out the seizures were being caused by different things, and both my sweeties are completely healthy now. But that experience changed me in several ways. One effect is that I now compulsively ask myself in every situation, “What if I had a seizure right now?”

Like what if I had a seizure while I was driving my car? I’d crash. Or what if I had a seizure while I was chopping onions? I’d cut off my hand and no one would notice at first because I would already have been crying from the onions. Or what if I had a seizure while I was standing two feet away from original Renaissance paintings? You see where I’m going with this.


Or what if it wasn’t even as dramatic as all that, but I just tripped over my own feet and landed face-first in Van Gogh’s self-portrait? I don’t have the earning potential to pay for that kind of damage within my lifetime. This is terrifying to me. Doesn’t that kind of thing scare you? Oh, you never think about things like that because you’re not a loonybird? Ok, got it.


Would they charge by the foot?


These are all imagined scenarios. I promise, I did not touch any of the art. But let me tell you what kind of buffoonery I did engage in on my first trip to the DIA (because you know I can’t go nice places without doing something embarrassing). The people at the DIA are interested in making art accessible to regular people, so they allow you to take pictures as long as you don’t use your flash. This is a generous policy, and I should have not taken advantage of it. I should have just kept my stupid phone in my little pocket and enjoyed the art with my eyeballs.

Alas, I did not. I took pictures of all my favorite pieces and of my daughter taking notes in front of giant framed paintings because that’s cute. All the while, my flash was obediently absent. No flashing. Then I turned a corner and in a slow-motion movie-style sequence complete with a swelling, romantic musical score, my eyes met the huge Andy Warhol double self-portrait . . . you know, the one with the bright candy colors and the afterimages. I got so excited, I turned around and took a selfie with it. Forreals.


Andy’s selfie


Here’s the problem. When my phone is in selfie mode, its little robot brain comes alive and takes control of the flash settings, and it punches out a super-bright flash that completely ruins the picture because you end up squinting. Immediately, a guard walked over and chastised me. I apologized and tried to assure myself that this probably happens a lot, but I spent the rest of the afternoon alternately worrying that:

1) my rule-breaking had been caught on a security camera, which the guards were reviewing right at that moment, after which they would come find me and kick me out, placing my name and the names of my family members on a blacklist so we could never come into the museum again; and

2) I probably shaved a good twelve minutes off the lifespan of that painting and when there is no more iconic Andy Warhol original self-portrait to see because it has disintegrated, I can add my name to the list of people responsible for that, along with the decision makers at the DIA because put it behind some glass, you guys!


A piece of Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” fresco



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