A Day With My Teenager: Picasso, Adams and Turning Greens to Pinks

Alex with AdamsWhether you got anything out of our visit to the art museum is really irrelevant.  The most important thing is that, for just a little while, I had my daughter to myself.  I was yours and you were mine and we talked about big ideas and great things.  I went to bed that night feeling very much at peace.


Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,

Mary Ellen and your mother went off on a school trip to Washington, D.C. last week.  I am sure that both of you girls remember the event─ Mary Ellen fell in love with our nation’s capital and Alexandria experienced the awkward quietness of time in the house with only your father for company.  Well, there were also the dogs.  I think Alexandria found the canines to be better company.

Alexandria, I hope you realize that I love you beyond any possible measure.  That being said, I struggle to find things to do with you that you will enjoy.  Being a thirteen-year-old young lady, your interests are obviously different than mine.  Those interests also seem to vary wildly; what is fun and cool one moment is a harbinger of fatal boredom and social suicide the next.  On an intellectual level, I realize these vacillations are normal teenage behavior.  Being a father of poor understanding, little patience and possessing little in the way of useful parenting skills, I have a hard time finding ways to show my love without causing you to become exasperated.  When you read these words, please understand that I always tried my best.

Anyway, the balance of the morning was spent in irresolute deadlock, with me asking you what you wanted to do and you pronouncing your lack of concern about our activities in a tone that was both bored and annoyed.  The stage had been set by a certain disagreement over a couple of chores; I had refrained from raising my voice, but that only created an uneasy armistice between you and me.  Finally, I suggested that perhaps an art museum would be to your liking.  You have an interest in drawing and you seem to enjoy discussing art.  This might be the one tenuous thread of interest that we can still share.

You agreed that the art museum would be somewhat acceptable, so off we went to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  It is a relatively small collection, but it has some important and interesting works.  I wonder if you remember that visit; let me tell you, Alexandria, it was a very special day for me and one of the highlights of my year.  For a little while, you and I had something in common that we were excited about.  Your eyes lit up when you saw Picasso for the first time.  We marveled over mixed media works.  You listened patiently while I got excited about explaining the differences between Italian and Flemish Renaissance works.  You got lost in Ansel Adams.  I got lost in him too when I was young.  I was about your age when I discovered his photos that made me feel like I was praying.

One of the last things we saw at the Nasher was an exhibit called “The Enclave,” by Richard Mosse.  It was a very different work; not a painting or a sculpture but a film on six screens.  It consisted of a series of movies shot of the war in the Congo and you walked around the screens as it played all around you.  The film was shot with a special film that turned the greens of the jungle to pink.  That seemed odd and unnecessary until you were suddenly hit with an undeniable truth:  We are so desensitized to violence that when we see it in the natural colors of the world we hardly notice it.  If you do the absurd and change the greens to unnatural and garish pinks, as the artist did here, then all of a sudden the cruelty and idiocy of war becomes glaringly obvious.  In unfamiliar color, the truth cannot hide in the comfortable background of the familiar.  “The Enclave” was a beautiful, haunting and compelling work that proved the point that the best art opens your eyes to how the world really is.  I initially had reservations about letting you see something so graphic, but our conversations after our viewing and your reaction to the piece quieted my fears.  You really understood, and for that, I am thankful.

Whether you got anything out of our visit to the Nasher is really irrelevant.  The most important thing is that, for just a little while, I had my daughter to myself.  I was yours and you were mine and we talked about big ideas and great things.  I went to bed that night feeling very much at peace.

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