At Chicago’s Art Institute

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Fair warning: I’m going to brag about my kids.

We spent the last week in Chicago (hence my radio silence) so that my husband Pete could spend time with his ailing father and work through some of his legal issues.  While he was dealing with all that, I took the kids on outings around the city.  On Monday we went to Chicago’s famed Art Institute.  I love the museum.  We’d been there a number of times while we were living in Chicago.  We visited when the kids were little and I was still pushing Josie around in a stroller and taking breaks to breastfeed while Pete did his best to wrangle a three year old Kolbe.  The kids and I went during the summer before our move to Alabama, when Pete was spending all his time working on finishing his dissertation.  And Pete and I have made the Art Institute a part of our anniversary celebration on two occasions, once in conjunction with the awesome Taste of Chicago, and once as part of our 10th anniversary, which included time at the museum along with high tea at the nearby Russian Tea House, a trip to the top of the Sears Tower (Willis who?) and an amazing fondue dinner at Geja’s.

I didn’t know what to expect from the kids on this visit.  The last time they visited the museum was two years ago, when Josie was five and Kolbe seven.  They were fairly well behaved, but very impatient, and not really interested in the art.  This time we had a little over four hours to fill, and I was worried that they would only be able to take two before they were bored out of their skulls and letting me (and everyone in our proximity) know it.

What actually happened makes me so proud of my kids.

We started in the Renaissance, and from the very beginning both kids were deeply interested.  We went painting by painting, and I pointed out symbolism, told them the bible stories depicted (when applicable), and did my best to talk art theory.  (At one point I was using a painting of the ruins of a Greek temple to explain perspective, and a woman came up to tell me she was impressed that I was teaching perspective to kids so young.) Kolbe and Josie excitedly pointed out paintings and objects that they liked, and wherever there was a bench, my daughter asked if we could stop and draw in the sketchbooks I had brought for them.  Kolbe wasn’t as interested in drawing, but he was willing to sit quietly and look at the art while Josie and I sketched our favorite pieces.  I am very rusty at drawing; I used to draw a lot in college, but haven’t really put pencil to paper at all in the past five or so years.  Sketching alongside my daughter was amazing, and I’m in awe of her talent.

When we got around to the Impressionists, we talked about Van Gogh’s brush strokes, Degas’ ballerinas, Seurat’s pointillism, Monet’s landscapes in different light, Rodin’s sculptures with the mold seams left in place.  Kolbe and Josie were attentive and eager to make observations, about how Van Gogh’s brushstrokes made the scenes look like they were moving, or how one of Monet’s haystacks must have been at sunrise while the other was at sunset (supposedly it was the other way around).

I had been afraid that the kids wouldn’t last the entire four plus hours, but as closing time grew near, we unfortunately had to rush through the American contemporary collection, with Nighthawks and American Gothic, and we didn’t get to the modern wing at all.  It is definitely worth another trip the next time we’re in Chicago (which looks like it may be sooner rather than later, as Pete’s dad’s condition is rapidly declining).

Admission to the Art Institute is $23 for adults, but free for children.  Appropriate, since Kolbe and Josie’s experience was priceless.

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