Past me the boy shuffled, his face slack with boredom.
He looked to be about 12 and suffering the agony of being dragged to culture. Around him hung dazzling works by arguably the world’s most popular artist, but the Van Gogh Museum clearly left him unimpressed.
“They’re just paintings,” he said.
Sure, kid, and a Mozart concerto is merely a bunch of notes.
Never miss a local story.
I hope his parents enjoyed the largest Vincent Van Gogh repository. Because for all he was getting out of it, they could have saved themselves some euros by buying him a cheap “Sunflowers” postcard in one of Amsterdam’s souvenir shops.
Though the boy made me shake my head, I want to thank him.
I appreciate what my wife and I have even more.
To our delight, our sons, Ted and John Michael, love art museums. Two years ago, on their first trip abroad, we visited some of the best: the Louvre Museum, Centre Pompidou and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, and the National Gallery and British Museum in London.
Our Oslo stay included an afternoon in the National Gallery, which includes a room with “The Scream” and other works of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
Not once did we have to cajole them into one more room. In fact, they often pulled us into galleries, and we closed down the British Museum.
They’ve done the same at the National Gallery in Washington, and they were just as excited at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum, on our current trip.
We popped into Amsterdam during our vacation mainly because of our Van Gogh aficionados. After seeing a few masterpieces in the United States, and more in Paris and London, they insisted on exploring a building with more than 200.
This may sound like bragging, and it is — about those who deserve the lion’s share of credit for our sons’ interest. At home, we have a few art history books on the shelves, but they’re not responsible for why two boys know about Monet, Gauguin and Picasso as though the trio anchored an infield.
For that, we can thank their wise teachers.
At Park Forest Elementary, Ted and John Michael were introduced to Impressionist and Cubist masters, instilling a love of art and building a foundation of knowledge that we’re adding to with each trip.
We live in a time of misguided educational priorities. Schools everywhere are trimming or eliminating art, art history and other cultural lessons, under pressure to focus on core subjects and achieve higher standardized test scores.
I’m grateful my sons’ teachers took an opposite tack, resisted the trend and delved into a little art history. They understood that an appreciation for art isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity, a membership in the humanity club.
Thousands of people from all over the globe daily visit the Van Gogh Museum. They converse in different languages, and hold disparate beliefs and values. Wide political and religious gulfs may separate them.
But despite their differences, they share a fascination with the bold brushstrokes and colors of a tortured genius sadly unrecognized in his own short lifetime.
They’re drawn to the story of how Vincent Van Gogh, in just a decade before his suicide, evolved from imitating the dark works of the Dutch masters to creating his now-famous style, making him one of the forerunners of modern art and a household name.
My sons could stand next to a Chinese tour group, an Iranian family and a German couple and, together, absorb the brilliance of “The Harvest,” one of Ted’s favorites.
Everyone may not have been able to say more than a greeting to each other, but they picked up Van Gogh’s language, such as his use of the “wet on wet” technique to apply paint before older layers dry and create swirled layers.
“He also mixed paint on the canvas, so that’s why his paint is so thick,” John Michael said after inspecting Van Gogh’s palette and tubes.
And, at the Rijksmuseum, my sons could join a diverse crowd united in awe at the sheer magnificence of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch.”
“Museums don’t teach us to love art,” a Rijksmuseum sign read. “They inspire us to love what the artists loved.”
That may be true, but my sons’ inspiration, their lifetime club membership, started in a classroom.
Perhaps the bored boy someday will be just as lucky.