Last night, we attended a teachers’ preview of the new photography exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum.* I love taking Ian to the museum. Each visit seems to strike a new chord; he runs from painting to sculpture to painting, ignoring what he doesn’t like and getting too close to what he does.
At the entrance to the exhibition was an Asian gentleman, playing the cello. He was in his late 40s, wearing worn and faded trousers, and kept his eyes downcast as he played. He was background music, placed in a corner while visitors walked in and out of the exhibition, or ate cream puffs while seated on folding chairs.
I took Ian to watch the cellist play. I knelt to the side, and Ian sat on my knee, his arm around my neck. He was quiet, almost introspective as he watched the man’s fingers dance across the cello’s neck, and the bow glide across the strings. Ian wasn’t entranced by the music as much as he was captivated by the mechanics of it.
He sat for a while, breathing slowly and not moving. Without taking his eyes from the cellist, Ian said to me, ‘He doesn’t have any papers.’ The music stand was empty.
And then he was off, racing across the floor to our table, the cellist forgotten. I stood and was following him as he turned, abruptly (Ian’s favorite adverb ), and came back to sit on the floor, just behind the music stand. I sat next to him, and we watched.
Suddenly Ian stood, and started tapping his foot. Fists clenched and arms pulled to his chest, he leaned forward and shook his head from side to side. This is Ian, in the groove.
All at once he ran across the patterned floor of the entrance, and back, from one tip of the inlaid diamond to the other. He ran, paused, danced. Ran, pause, danced. A group of women left the exhibition hall and Ian ran to stand by me. He whispered in my ear, ‘I’m in the way.’ As soon as the women passed, Ian was off again.
After a few minutes, Ian and I turned our heads toward the cellist as we heard the slap of a hand on wood. Ian stopped and waited, and started dancing again. Slap. Ian jerked his head upward, startled from his dance. Slap, slap. Slap. The cellist was slapping his hand against the upper body of the cello as he played, adding percussion to the strings.
He was watching Ian.
Ian grinned and danced, briefly pausing with each slap, skipping and turning circles across the floor. And whatever Ian did, the music did, too. Sudden flurries of notes for running; low, ponderous tones for stomping. Every so often Ian would stop, raise his hands to his face, and wiggle his fingers as if he were playing a two-handed trumpet; because cellists’ fingers move quickly, too.
The more I watch Ian, the more I realize that childhood is about ignoring boundaries. With Ian, there is no fourth wall; there is no distance between himself and the world. He doesn’t watch, he does. If there’s a stranger, you wave. If there’s a wall, you climb. If there’s music, you dance.
And if there’s a two-year-old, dancing, you play along.
* Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888-1918. The exhibition runs through May 14, and is free on Fridays. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend seeing this!