“Museum” is an awfully depressing word. Maybe it’s the way your lips seem to stick together as you say the first and last syllables or perhaps the fact that it resembles another unpleasant word—mausoleum—but the second I hear that word my brain instantly annihilates all associations with words like “mindless,” “fun,” and “a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in college.” I hear the word “museum” and I immediately think of white walls, silence, and cold.So imagine my surprise upon visiting the
in Pasadena, and finding it to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my semester. The Norton Simon is a gem among art museums. While it does have white walls, silence, and air conditioning like all other museums, it feels more like a discovery than an academic experience.The space itself is approachable but breathtaking—natural light pours inside from the verdant garden courtyard. Outside, there is a beautiful pond surrounded by flowers, trees, and sculptures. A walking path takes you through the garden and around the museum. While I’m there I feel solitary and calm; it is very easy to find a nook all to yourself just to admire the surroundings. I could easily envision taking a nap right here in the garden.I could not think of a better place to escape the textbooks, cell phones, and alarm clocks of college life. Even if you do not care at all about art, this is the ultimate place to kick back, relax, and breathe.For those of you who do like looking at art, the Norton Simon has the best collection of Impressionist paintings in the Los Angeles area. They have works by Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Degas, Rivera, and everyone in-between. The best part, though, is that you do not have to search through the entire museum to find one recognizable painting. Each wall is packed with works that are important and emotionally striking.One of my favorite pieces in the museum is Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.” It is simply a portrait of an old woman with a pleasant smile on her face, but there is something about this little canvas that is extremely powerful. The placard next to the painting explains that Van Gogh painted this portrait from a black and white daguerreotype, to help him capture the personality and vivaciousness of his mother. His success is evidenced by the brilliant colors and rich textures that cause any passerby to take a second look at this unassuming canvas.The Norton Simon is full of powerful works like this one. The Impressionist gallery in fact takes up only about a fourth of the entire museum. The Norton Simon also houses an impressive 14th to 17th century European art collection and an extensive selection of Asian art.For me, the point of the Norton Simon is not its superb collection of artwork. L.A. has many other places with equally astounding collections—the Getty, LACMA, MOCA, and the art world’s quirky cousins, the Museum of Neon Art and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. What sets the Norton Simon apart is the intangible feeling you get when entering the space. This is not a place that requires you to be knowledgeable or even appreciative. This place asks nothing of you. You are simply there to enjoy, to reflect, to relax. It is your own private haven.Best of all, the Norton Simon is much closer to campus than many of L.A.’s other art museums. To get to the Norton Simon Museum by car, take the 210 West and exit on Fair Oaks Avenue South. Turn right at Colorado Boulevard. The Norton Simon is accessible via public transportation, but it is probably not feasible unless you have an entire day to kill. Take the 187 bus from the Claremont Depot to the Colorado / Hill stop in Pasadena, then transfer to the 780 line. Take the 780 to Colorado / Orange Grove. In the meantime, keep pressuring the Metro to extend the Gold Line from Pasadena to Claremont, and then you won’t have to spend two hours getting to the Norton Simon.