Can two single men share an art museum without driving each other crazy?
I don’t know how to go to a museum with another person.
Let’s say I’m going to LACMA on Saturday. (I don’t really want to go, but I’m going anyway, because I want to have gone. It is the same reason I watch TV, or get vaccinated.) I’ll wake up Saturday morning worried about what the museum will do to my friendship with Bob, who will be joining me. I love Bob. He’s open-minded and perennially curious. That’s what worries me. He is going to give every artwork the benefit of the doubt.
Either my anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy or just good intuition, because inside the museum, Bob is enjoying everything. He is impressed by color. The shade of blue impresses him. How did Cézanne get that shade? Bob wants to know. He steps in closer to the painting, I assume, because he figures proximity will yield a deeper understanding. His nose is so close to the canvas that the security guard asks him to please step away. Others turn and look, smiling at him. Bob smiles back. They understand each other. I figure this is some kind of badge of honor, to trespass in the name of aesthetic inquisition. I don’t understand.
This happens every time I go to a museum with an excited friend. I realize one of us is defective. Either Bob is faking his enthusiasm for blue or I’m aesthetically and emotionally broken. Is he being pretentious, or is he, admirably, deepening his relationship with Cézanne? Am I a closet philistine or just having an honest response to the work? I don’t know. But it’s either him or me.
That right there is the danger. To uphold the veracity of my own experience, I begin to hope Bob is the defective one. I turn against him. He drifts, hands behind his back, to the Mondrian, and I think, Schmuck. Before a Picasso, he throws a hand to his heart, and I think, Okay, sad. He is delusional.
As we approach the gift shop on our way out, I am afraid of what a conversation will yield. I am ashamed of my feelings and ashamed of Bob’s, so I just get quiet, and become unrecognizably antisocial. What will we say to each other during lunch? What if he orders an espresso?
And then I watch, aghast, while my friend pays $45 for a Cézanne coffee-table book. “Oh!” I exclaim. “Nice!” Now we are both lying.
Then the dreaded question: He asks, “What did you think?” “I loved it,” I say, loudly. “What did you think?” Bob shrugs. He was disappointed. I am shocked. And kindly, like a good friend, he’s interested in knowing what I loved about it.