I just finished a week in Amsterdam with my dad. After two months of traveling solo it was great to see a familiar face, especially the face of a man I love to pieces! My dad was born in Eindhoven and still has a lot of family and friends in Amsterdam that I got the chance to meet. It made Amsterdam feel a little bit more like home.
From the moment I stepped out of the train station, I loved Amsterdam. It was 70 and sunny and the city was alive with people. The sun glistened on the water of the canals where families and friends crowded together on boats to enjoy the beautiful day.
My dad’s friends Rita, Hans, and Leandra had planned a day in the city for us. We took a boat tour of the canals, visited the Rembrandt house and toured The Canal House museum, where we learned about one of the world’s greatest urban development projects: the 17th century Amsterdam canal district. The Dutch really are brilliant planners… a trait that must have left my dad when he came to the US.
Our favorite museum was the newly renovated Rijks Museum. With four floors and nearly 20 rooms on each floor, you could spend a week in the Rijks Museum and still not see it all. In addition to it’s brilliant collection, the Rijks museum takes a unique approach to the presentation. At the entrance of the museum is a large sign that reads “Art is Therapy,” which has become the theme. Scattered throughout the museum, you can find short descriptions of how art cures the many diseases of our world. Some of them were tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken too seriously, but many were actually quite insightful.
In his painting, Interior of the Church Sint-Odulphuskerk in Assendelft, Pieter Jansz didn’t just paint a church, he painted an attitude to life. His focus on the simple and peaceful of the interior of the church is actually instruction on how to life a healthful life. Here’s the “Art is Therapy” translation:
SICKNESS: My life revolves around business, distraction, chaos, Twitter.
TRANSLATION: The architects of the building depicted here, and the artist himself, were convinced about a challenging idea: if you want to get close to the important things, you will need a lot of calm, of whiteness, of emptiness, of peace. Serenity, concentration and order aren’t luxuries, they aren’t a superficial concern for a particular style of interior decoration; they are preconditions for a thoughtful, balanced life. The picture sends a slightly stern, but welcome message: you have to fight off distraction, it can ruin your life. You have to prioritize ruthlessly, simplify, get rid of what you don’t really need, don’t check your email all the time, focus is an achievement.
This message struck a chord with me. I left home with the idea that context and environment has a profound on the life you live. It’s been easier for me to focus, to simplify, and to be balanced on the road than it is at home, simply because there are fewer distractions. But, how will I design the same life for myself back home? A question yet to be answered…
Insights like these are what make me love museums. The main point of museums should not be to teach us to love art, but to inspire us to love and understand what artists have loved and sought to teach.
When all was said and done, I bid goodbye to my dad as he headed to Romania, and I to the island Crete. I’m already looking forward to reconnecting with him in Athens in a week!
P.S. Amsterdam is home to the best ice cream shop in the whole world. And I do mean the whole world. I’ve indulged in ice cream (and gelato) in every city and country I’ve been to, which makes me somewhat of an ice cream expert. In case you want to visit yourself, here’s a picture of the ice cream shop, since there’s no way I can spell this name.