We went to the Norton Simon Museum — this is what inspired us
By Annie Goodman + Ryan Hynes
LA-based copywriting duo with two voices, two perspectives, and one beating heart for words that matter.
As full-time creative writers, part-time pseudo-designers, purveyors of culture, and existentialists extraordinaire, finding inspiration for our work is paramount to… well… our work. So we set out on a journey to head to a place that is 1:1 with art itself — a museum.
Lo and behold, we ended up at the idyllic Norton Simon Museum, which sits right off the 134 Eastbound freeway, and is a mere street away from the cosmopolitan center of Pasadena (which is not technically considered LA county).
Here’s what we discovered, explored, and thought during our voyage towards a new vision.
And we’re back
A: I was dreading having to leave my house at 12pm on a Sunday afternoon (because who knows how to leave their house anymore). I made it in good time, only to see people lined up to get in, which shocked me because I didn’t realize people still sought out in-person experiences that weren’t just video calls.
R: In the before times, going to a museum always felt a bit forced to me. It was ninth or tenth on a list of “things to do to avoid Sunday scaries” and rarely came to fruition (bowling alleys were open back then). But being away from everything for over a year really upped the prospective value of visiting a museum. I was surprised by how invigorated I was to enter a creatively “sacred” place. I didn’t know what to wear. (I wore shorts).
A: Don’t forget to mention the hand sanitizer, Ryan!
R: Oh, there was a lot of hand sanitizer to protect the art that we never touched.
What we saw
R: All the art was moving on its own (and en masse), but the truth is, I spent most of my time watching the other people. There were college-aged coeds and their presumed professors. There were grandmothers in wheelchairs with their presumed grandsons. There were two (read: TWO!) men sketching paintings that they saw on the wall. One of them had taken a picture on his phone of a portrait and then used his phone to zoom in on the details as he sketched the subject’s face.
It left me perplexed about mediums, and contexts, and what exactly constitutes authorship.
A: Nothing like ambitious youth at a museum on a Sunday to remind yourself that you’re in your thirties (and could have tried harder in your twenties). But all of that aside, I was brought back to my senior year AP Art History class, twirling through the different genre galleries. Gaugin, Picasso, Rodarte, Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Degas, Rembrandt decorated the walls, and my mind was tickled remembering that there is analysis (albeit subjective) to be made when it comes to the timeless work of these visionaries. Mom, do I sound like an expert yet?
I also genuinely asked Ryan if he thought angels really existed based on such an “accurate” depiction in the 15th century paintings (you know the ones).
R: We live in the city of angels!
How we felt
R: There was a familiar uneasiness that underpinned the entire hour (hour and a half? half hour? Honestly, you could tell me it was anywhere between 22 minutes and four hours and I would believe you). I think it had to do with just that — with time. There was not enough of it, and there just never will be.
Each painting drew my attention to an entirely different landscape of humanhood — a different part of the world, a different century, a perspective entirely unseen and not mine. I think time spent indoors, at a computer screen, and isolated during the pandemic had attuned my senses to a faster, narrower, more familiar beat of time.
Something about being in a museum with art that had been protected for centuries felt entirely disjointed from my flow. That said, I didn’t exactly want to leave.
A: You would have had to pull my arm to get me into a museum in my younger years, but I totally get how going to a museum is like a reset. There are quite literally no expectations for what you’re meant to get out of the experience. There are the “arties,” who likely know every period piece ever created, the curious, who are open to quizzically evaluating each layer of paint, the aloof, who have been dragged along by their families and enthusiastic friends, and then the likes of Ryan and me — excited for a “chill” weekend moment, where there is silence and stillness and beauty and wonderment.
Not to mention, their outdoor garden — which obviously still had art in it (and a security guard who would RUN to you if your mask slipped down below your nose — was like a sanctuary. Being outside with the art really facilitated a whole new way of internalizing it while also observing people as they enjoyed their museum cafe turkey club sandwiches. (We didn’t get one, by the way).
R: The sandwiches looked phoned-in!
What we wondered
A: As a Millennial, who strives for completion, I was struck by how smooth-moving and paced other museum goers were. The Norton Simon may have very well been The Louvre with the amount of consideration each stroller gave the art. “They could be here for days!” I exclaimed to Ryan. It made me wonder in Carrie Bradshaw fashion, “Do people actually get something from each individual piece of art? Or is it the act of being in a museum itself that prompts overall catharsis? Is the museum our actual muse?”
R: “How much of our day-to-day consumption of the stimulus around us is passive?
When was the last time I intentionally looked into something instead of it popping up in my purview?
Is everything Dutch?”
The Norton Simon has an expansive indoor collection, but as Annie mentioned it also has an outdoor garden filled with sculptures and statues (and even some birds!) I was especially struck by the differences between the indoor and the outdoor experiences, and how they drew the line between active and passive engagement. Inside I felt the desire to focus so acutely on every tiny element of a piece of art to really “get” what it meant. Outside I felt the opposite — the need to look broader, less intensely, and to await the world to inspire me.
Mostly I could just hear the Ventura Freeway, but hey, at least I was listening.
What we’re inspired to do now
A: 2021 has been the slowest year that has never felt faster. Everyone I talk to feels hurried, paralyzed, and bored all at once. Breaking up my usual routine to go out of my way (and comfort zone) was incredibly balancing and inspires me to want to block out more time for cultural happenings and events. I came home rejuvenated with prompts on my mind about the art I had seen and the lifestyle I’m currently living. At the end of the day, art makes you consider perspective on every level, and how what you’re seeing might be completely different from what another sees and perceives. That, my friends, is how empathy exists! Profundity is alive!
R: It might sound trite and shallow (ha!), but I’m inspired to create and consume more deeply. The museum woke me up to the lasting power of creativity, and the potential of investing a lot of heart into one thing. So much of contemporary creative work is shuttling stuff from screen to screen. And while that’s unlikely to change any time soon, I feel more compelled to withhold from tweeting my next stroke of brilliance. Instead I might opt to print it out and hang it on the wall.