When Ted was 13 I took him to New York. Four days, just the two of us, exploring the city and we had a blast together. For as challenging as Teddy was, he has always been an excellent traveler. 16 hour car trips to visit Neal’s parents when he was a toddler. No problem. Cross-country flights to visit Neal’s sister. No problem. He was a dream. He was a delight. Come to think of it, if only I had just traveled with him his entire childhood we might not have had the problems we did. Hmmm…
17-month-old Teddy and his early work with sand, Carmel, CA
We did about as much as tourists can do in four days. Walking is my favorite thing to do in a city and I dragged that poor boy all over. We had a non-shopping pact, which for me was just fine as I don’t care much for shopping, but one day, the day we walked from Battery Park, half-way across the Brooklyn Bridge and back, and up to Midtown, we broke the pact.
It was in Chelsea when I noticed Ted, who was being a very good sport, was clearly worn out. I stopped and laughed, for in front of us was a Pottery Barn. He looked at me and said, “No shopping, remember.” I replied, “It’s not shopping I want to do. Pottery Barn sells FURNITURE. They sell CHAIRS. You can SIT on their chairs!” He was all over the idea. That was the only store we went into on the trip, and after a break in a fancy named chair and ottoman combination, we easily made it to Midtown.
Ted at the Intrepid Museum, New York, NY
One of our days was spent on the Upper East Side, and armed with our CityPasses, we went to the Guggenheim.
Okay, so I consider myself open to new experiences, really I do, and although by no means am I an art connoisseur, I do enjoy museums. I have been to the Louvre in Paris, the Met just down 5th Avenue from the Guggenheim in NYC and I have been to the Tokyo National Museum, in, well Tokyo, but no museum before prepared me for the Guggenheim.
Maybe that day (and the day I returned with Meg for her 13-year-old trip) they just had an unfortunate exhibit. The placards written to describe the installations were more creative (and amusing) than any object on display.
A pyramid of sand.
A room painted white.
A piece of unfinished plywood resting against a wall.
A canvas covered in 10,000 dead (luckily) flies.
Ted looked at me with the most puzzled, WTF expression.
This was nothing like what we had seen at the Intrepid Museum or the Natural History Museum. To Ted, THAT was museum stuff.
He asked me why “this stuff” was in a museum, and why had we and many other people paid to see it, and why were those other people walking around, whispering in their best museum-voices, about the significance of a pyramid of sand. Something, he said, he had made at the beach countless times.
With a huge, amused-infused smile I asked Teddy if he remembered the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.
“Ted, my dear, you are experiencing a real-life Emperor’s New Clothes and you are seeing what the child who called out that the Emperor had nothing on, saw.”
Just because something is in an art museum does not make it art.
So we left the exhibit of flies and white walls – and by the way, the white stripe along the floor in the white-walled room, subtly painted in a different sheen, according to the placard, had some really deep meaning, maybe something about the white signifying the emptiness of existence, I can’t remember. But to us, it just represented a certain kind of silliness.
It is doubtful that silly was the curator’s intention for the exhibit, but it was provocative just the same because more than any other New York adventure, years later, Ted and I occasionally mention that afternoon at the Guggenheim and our Emperor’s New Clothes experience. The art produced a thoughtful exchange between Teddy and I and an important life lesson got to be emphasized.
So often in life we elevate nonsense, rather than just call it what it is, because it can be difficult, scary even, to stand up and speak out against the flow, and the loudness of popular opinion.
I was proud of Ted that day, I always have been, for he spoke up and is the most honest person I know.
His honesty is at times hard to take, but it is also rare and refreshing.
Ted will face many more challenges in life, and some may be a result of his honesty, but I hope he doesn’t ever lose it, challenges and all. For a life lived honestly is a good life.
Since this is a post of being authentic and loosely about art, I will end with a quote from a favorite, Pablo Picasso,
“All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”