Since the Budget Act of 1974 went into force in 1976, the U.S. government has shut down 12 times due to disputes between the President and Congress (or the House and the Senate) over the national budget. Coincidentally, our son was born just prior to the eleventh shutdown when Bill Clinton was President. You might recall that a bit of a to-do arose at the time because the Smithsonian was hosting a show of Vermeer’s paintings- all of them, which was something that had been very difficult to arrange. Moreover, the nature of those arrangements suggested that all Vermeer’s painting would never again be all in one place. The extraordinary decision was made to keep the show open during the closure of the remainder of the government.
I know we liked Vermeer as we had a poster of The Little Street hanging in our home, but I do not recall how much of an impression the show made before the efforts were made to save it. Be that as it may, we confirmed that the swaddled babe was good for travel and we drove to Washington, D.C.
Wouldn’t you know? We were not the only people to have the idea of seeing the show. We had been to the Smithsonian before and we knew that you basically just wandered in and took a gander about. They were very welcoming (and we were young and oblivious). Well, special exhibits are different and this show was quite special indeed. You needed a timed ticket, as we learned when we showed up in the afternoon and they directed us to the waiting line and learned that all the tickets had long ago been passed out for the day (after standing outside for an hour). If we wanted to see the show, we could come back the next day and wait in line.
We had driven all the way there and I was in no mood to miss something that I had not known I would be doing a week before. I got in line about 6 am the next day (after taking advice from the local news) and I was about tenth in line with a three hour wait ahead of me. I had brought a book, but no umbrella. My apologies to P.D. James for the state of her book when the downpour finally stopped. The remainder of our party appeared with about thirty minutes to go and told me that the line stretched all around the block and beyond sight. Soon enough, we entered the National Gallery. Those in front of us were interested in the rest of the museum, oddly enough, so we were pretty much the first people in the Vermeer show that day.
The show was a lesson in technology, innovation, creativity, and the overwhelming desire of an artist to do the best work he possibly could. Nothing online or in a poster can capture the luminosity and beauty of Vermeer’s work in person. We spend a great deal of effort discussing the indulgence of art, arguing about its importance and its messages. Great that it would be to have a definitive answer about how important art is in life, but we all know that we need food and sleep and we ache when we see those without the necessities. And I would stand in line in the cold rain for hours for food and shelter for my family like many, many others have had to do. And, apparently, I would do the same for great art.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 240 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.