Bethany Kanter’s Day Off

Bethany Kanter’s Day Off

You might be thinking, “Bethany, you’re the poet blogger at Marginalia. Why is your preview image of a painting?” Well reader, one of the perks of being a Columbia student is free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago. For little artist and poet me, this is a great luxury. What would only be an occasional visit can now be a lunch break that turns into the rest of an afternoon. 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1886

Over the weekend, my Aunt came in from San Francisco to attend a conference, and she and my mother came down to visit and spend the day with me.

My mom had taken me to the Milwaukee Art Museum several times a year from my pre-teens on. The summer before I moved to Chicago, the MAM had a special retrospective exhibit of Kandinsky’s life work, our favorite artist. We had moments where we stood in front of paintings that were no longer prints in books or on our walls, but real objects with real paint. I thought about crying, she probably did because she cries at a lot of things.

Composition, VII, Wassily Kandinsky, 1913

One of my favorite things to do with my free admission, is to find a bench in the Impressionists gallery on a weekday, and to listen to parents culturing their children, trying to get them to appreciate art, or at least, recognize the difference between a Monet and a Van Gogh. My favorite bench is in the Monet room, where I sit and face a painting that was on the cover of a Debussy piano book that I could not play, and so would just look at for what felt like hours.

Waterloo Bridge, Gray Weather, Claude Monet, 1900

The painting still holds the same kind of wonder and melancholy for me. I want to see the city. I want to breathe in the smog and choke on it. I want to smell how bad it probably smelled. As a child who was raised outside of a town of 10,000, it was odd to imagine any kind of city, except perhaps Madison, WI, where I learned to play piano, and Milwaukee, where I looked at art. So instead, I had this world of music and image that felt both inextricably close and inexorably far at the same time.

The Poet’s Garden, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

There was something spectacular about showing my mom around a museum in a city that I now call mine. It was the first time she’s been able to visit me since I moved here from Nowhere, Wisconsin a little over a year ago. The Poetry Thing is still a little bit of an oddity for my parents, but it’s always been mitigated by their love of creating and absorbing art.

The arts are all a bit tied up for me. I could read music before I could read words. I could read words earlier than most. I wanted to be a painter for most of my childhood. When I started undergrad, I was going to study to be a novelist. And then halfway through my sophomore year, I started writing poetry, and suddenly the rest of what I’d loved about the rest of the arts coalesced into this One Lovely Thing.

I’m trying to think of a good way to tie this post together, but I think it’s a little too tangled up in the love of creating things and learning to love creating things for the ending to be tidy. I guess I’m just thankful to be in an environment where I have access to art that I love, and that, whether by showing my mom around a museum or by writing a poem, I get to share a little bit of that love.