I love the word flânerie and its meaning. One definition of this curious French word is aimless idleness, the act of strolling or dawdling. What a poetic name given to something that we so often criticize. When I think of the word dawdle, sadly, the first thing that comes to my mind is an impulse to hurry up one of my children in whatever task we’re trying to do. The idea of giving any attention to being aimless, to taking our time, to meandering from one thing to the next – on purpose – is pretty foreign to today’s culture. In a world where we seem to value being “driven”, and learn to focus on productivity at every younger ages, the notion of simply wandering or intentionally spending time with no purpose as become rare. Over the last year, I’ve challenged myself to try and recapture the forgotten art of flânerie, to leave time to go unplanned, to indulge the impulse to pull off the main road, or to ignore the admonition that we don’t have enough time. To see what we see.
A museum is a perfect place to dawdle. On a recent trip to Memphis, we took a few refreshing minutes to wander through the Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park, and take in some of the collection. We’ve visited Memphis countless times, and always seemed not to have “enough time” to visit Brooks. On the last day of this trip, I credit my mom with saying, “you’ve been wanting to see it; so we should see it.” Decision made.
It was about an hour and a half before closing when we arrived at the museum, and even the docent told us, with a sigh, that the collection normally takes several hours to see. Still, the kids and I decided to wander anyway through Eggleston photographs, the uniquely Southern but sometimes otherworldly paintings of Carroll Cloar, contemporary Memphis-inspired works, and a visiting exhibit of American still life works which includes examples from Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keefe. The museum’s collection is an eclectic combination of styles, mediums, and historical references from contemporary and modern works to decorative arts, internationally renown artists, and uniquely Southern work.
In the Cloar gallery, I jotted down one of his quotes… “There is the joy, in the sense of belonging, of possessing and being possessed, by the land where you were born.” As I was looking through images of artwork taken on our trip, it struck me that there is also a sense of belonging in the places we wander. The places we allow ourselves to absorb uninhibited by what we ought to be seeing, what we ought to be doing, where we ought to be going. These pieces, the emotions they evoke, and the familiarity they call to mind, are entwined in my mind with the look of the galleries as my children wandered them. The light on their faces next to the artwork. The ones they liked. The times they ran on ahead to find their favorites. Which were invariably different from mine. In that sense, these works belong to us. As well as to the Brooks.
Works portrayed in photos from the museum:
“Christina’s Teapot” 1968 — Andrew Wyeth
“Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog” 1965 — Carroll Cloar
“Wedding Party” 1971 — Carroll Cloar
“Historic Encounter Between E.H. Crump and W.C. Handy on Beale Street” 1964 — Carroll Cloar
“Study for Homage to the Square: Young Voice” 1957 — Josef Albers
“The Gleaners” 1936 — Burton Callicott
“The Cat Man” 1986 — David Bates
“Memphis On My Mind” 2015 — Red Grooms
“Reading By The Brook” 1879 — Winslow Homer
“Still Life with Red Apples” ca. 1935 — Emil James Bisttram