Derek Johnson Muses

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Visiting the Chicago Art Institute

After my last trip to visit production fields and test plots, I accomplished one of my important goals for my artistic development and visited the Art Institute of Chicago. I’d walked past it several times, but to go and observe the paintings was something else.

Actually took this photo three years ago, but it’s the best one I have.

My sister and I took the South Shoreline in from La Porte, Indiana, where we enjoyed some quality reading/discussion time. We both agree-it would be so awesome to live someplace where you could ride a train every day to work, so you’d get an hour plus of quality reading time. I’d give up my car for that. After an early lunch at Corner Bakery (the greatest spice-mixing eatery on the earth) and grabbing some Starbucks coffee (they got my drink wrong), we were off to the museum.

Rolling in, we found that we were arriving on free admission day…for Illinois residents. But at least this meant there would be a lot of people in the museum, which I actually do like. I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on their free admission day, and it’s fun when there’s more people there. It makes it the place to be.

The Institute is way too big for its own good. My sister and I took over four hours and we still didn’t get through everything (although we probably did see over half of it). It took me less time to see every at the SF MOMA. The lesson I learned was don’t waste as much time on the abstracts on the things you don’t care for as much, spend time with photographs, twentieth century paintings, and realist paintings that you like.We didn’t even get to the Lichtenshien special exhibit. 1930’s cartoon have their place, but this is the Chicago Art Institute.

A couple of things stood out on this visit. First, the exhibition Capturing the Sublime: Italian Drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque, collection of strained drawing from the Renaissance, many of them nudes. I started glancing through them and thought little of them. I took first and second glances and found the drawings to be too distant, grayish and emphasizing tendon-like lines. Then I wandered on to the next exhibit and realized that a lot of my black and whites of barns are the same. Later, I came back and compared some of my photos, and there were probably more similarities than I would like to admit. Talk about a good dose of humility.

Asian art I still don’t get. I didn’t get it when I visit the Asian Museum of Art in San Francisco last year, and I don’t get it well. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy connecting with their culture, but overall, I think Asian art might have been the forerunner of the comic book. So many white glass dishes covered in wispy blue lines.But I do like their animal sculptures.

Like this guy

But the real moment of truth for me came when I was observing the American art. While I was sitting on a bench taking in the paintings in a particular room, I was draw to a patch of white light that stood out on a black tower. The painting looked like it was from an industrial city in the 1870’s or something, like Chicago, Dubuque, or Milwaukee. I was captivated by the way the box of light just jumped off the canvas and presented itself to me. I spent the rest of my time looking through the gallery the same way that painting presented itself to me, trying to find the hole of light in the painting.

When I visit an art museum, I love to sit back and soak in what it has to offer me. That’s why I made it a goal to visit the Art Institute in Chicago, and while it’s now my goal to visit the Met in New York, along one other significant art museum in my time in that city. That museum gave me so much new perspective, perspective that I need to grow as an artist and as a writer. Reflecting on it, I know my work has to get better.



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