When I was a child, my father would take me to art museums. Not to make this sound like we visited an art museum every week, because we didn't, still we popped into one or another maybe twice a year. In Seattle, Los Angeles, the Art Institute in Chicago, and so forth.
But the thing that struck me then, and that strikes me now when I visit such places, even the Louvre, is that it's a very unnatural way to see a picture.
Because in a museum, you can't see a single picture, by itself; the picture has uninvited company, hung shoulder to shoulder with others it never asked to meet. And even if you want to concentrate on a single painting, that's very difficult, because you're distracted by the one on the left and the right, and the halls and rooms that follow with further pictures. My eye travels, gets confused.
These men and women, they painted their picture to be seen as the only one, all alone, with a real estate unto itself. Not next to a Leonardo or a Van Gogh, fighting for attention. There is a point where too much significance becomes insignificant.
I guess my favorite art museum was the one with the impressionists, in Paris. As I recall, the place had once been a train station, with uneven wooden boards as flooring. I liked it because the paintings had something in common, but most of all, I liked it because a man I loved in Amsterdam took me there. And I probably studied his back as he viewed the paintings more than I studied the paintings themselves. Committing him to memory, the way he stood, with his shoulders and head straight and tall, not doing the head cocking thing to imply that I might be missing something.
That day I burned his image into my brain. Purposefully. His back,the straight crop of his blond hair just above his jacket, the elegant pleat in the upper part of his jacket just between his shoulder blades. I see him still, standing there, in front of some masterpiece or other.