Delaney Kerkhof’18 on an ever-changing experience with art

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole […]. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or that kid that was your partner in line last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.” – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye


During my sophomore year I found myself visiting the art museum once or twice a week, whenever I had a few minutes between classes or before practice. I didn’t know why at the time, but the Princeton University Art Museum became this alternate world for me where I could relax and find peace.

By stepping into the art museum, I could leave my hectic Princeton life and be transported to a sacred place full of incredible works from other worlds. I could walk around the silent walls and just look and feel. I wouldn’t even have to think. Just look and feel. A flawlessly white marble body, a loose Impressionist brushstroke, a crack on an ancient Mayan vase.

The art museum became a place where I could escape the stress of Princeton and feel at peace. Friends would ask me why I liked the art museum so much – since it has absolutely nothing to do with my Woody Woo major and my education policy career aspirations – but I could never put it into words. Not until I stumbled upon this Catcher in the Rye quote in my ART 368 class about the history, theory, and practice of American museums.

Like Holden Caulfield at the Museum of Natural History, every time I stepped foot into the art museum, I was a changed person, but the works were still the same. I would look at the same Kandinsky [Promenade (Sketch) 1903] and notice a different patch of a color or a different brushstroke. Everything had stayed the same, but the way I viewed the works and the way I viewed the world had changed. The art museum brings me peace because it is the tranquil eye of the crazy storm that is Princeton, where I can take stock of how I feel and who I have become.