Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Love Places

Earlier this semester I missed the bus back home and decided to hop a train.  It only got me home an hour earlier than the next bus, and cost about twice as much, but I needed to feel in charge of my life so I walked two miles in a light drizzle to the Amtrak station and boarded for Chicago.

Union Station is a wonderful place.  The parallel feelings of being totally surrounded by humanity and also being totally anonymous are all wrapped up in one magnificent underground complex of ticket booths, expensive coffee shops, and great roaring beasts of trains.  I had half an hour to kill before boarding the Metra line from Chicago to Aurora, so I wandered into the Great Hall.

This is mostly underground.

The Great Hall at Union Station is a magnificent place.  One must either ignore it or be overwhelmed by it, because the towering ceiling admits no other response.  Like all the old beautiful architecture in Chicago, it does not require anything of you.  Look up, delight in the beauty of the place, and be humbled.  But what I love about great places goes beyond their artistic value: they give the sense of being beyond my ability to destroy.  It doesn't matter whether my homework is late or my hair is unkempt, whether I feel terrible or terrific, beautiful places only require that I exist in them to change my mood for the better.

In the modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago there is (or was, several years ago) a room, drywalled on every surface and unpainted, containing one giant mass of fluorescent lamps.  One aspect to the exhibit is that, as people wander through, it breaks down.  The floor is for some obscure reason covered by sheets of drywall that are punched through and worn away in places, and wears further as people walk through.

The Institute's description of this piece says so little in so many words that it rivals the work's own bland obscurity.
This exhibit, as for as I can tell, is not art.  It is the very antithesis to art.  It says "I am totally at your mercy to destroy, halfway imbalanced and teetering on the least interesting edge of insanity".  Some might respond that this feeling of unease is exactly what the art was supposed to inspire, and that it is working to that end.  But unease is cheap, and those who have nothing important to say should have the good sense not to speak.  Art tries to get a better angle at beauty, and is often hard to understand, but this modern foolishness merely tries to be hard to understand and misses beauty altogether.

Back to Union Station.  I had just enough time to drool over the Great Hall, grab a rather awful cappuccino at Corner Bakery, and wonder why Chicago makes me so happy before catching the 2:20 to Aurora.  I stayed for barely long enough to remember why I missed living in that wonderful place called home.