Thousands of Yale undergraduates developed a special appreciation for architecture because of one man: Professor Vincent Scully, who for 61 years taught a wildly popular course on the History of Architecture. He was a charismatic lecturer who made his subject matter come alive so brilliantly that he received a standing ovation at the end of every class–and is considered probably the best lecturer Yale has ever seen.
Outside Yale, Scully is so renowned that he was awarded our country’s highest honor for artists and arts patrons: the National Medal of Arts. Truly the kind of professor most students get once in a lifetime, alumni still talk about how he influenced their appreciation for art, and pretty much everyone I knew at Yale took his course.
I knew about it, of course. And I’m sure somehow I could have fit him into my schedule. But I never did. And I can’t really remember why–although I’m sure I had a reason that was important when I was 20. Which is probably the best reason of all–that I was 20– too young to know why I would want that course material embedded inside my brain. So unlike thousands of Yale students over the years, I never heard Vincent Scully lecture–even though this incredibly rich experience was right there literally under my nose.
I can’t begin to describe how much I wish I had taken that course. I still don’t know much about architecture. But I’ve learned enough to appreciate the work of probably America’s greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve also seen his buildings, and read the current bestseller, Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, about the love affair between Wright and his mistress, for whom he built the house most closely associated with his name: Taliesin.
So when I knew I’d be with my son Daniel last week in Madison, Wisconsin, only an hour from Taliesin, I felt the pull to spend a day in the world of Frank Lloyd Wright. Despite my usual tendency to procrastinate, I made this plan weeks in advance. Although I did procrastinate on the book, Loving Frank, which I finished reading at 3 a.m. the night before visiting Taliesin.
A few days ago, I walked through the buildings and grounds that comprise Taliesin, immersed in the life and story of the genius who was such a giant in his field (although not a giant in stature based on the height of the ceilings in his home). Standing inside the school he designed in 1902, it seemed impossible to imagine how Wright could so confidently and dramatically have the vision to break out of the box that defined the art of his age.
Before the trip, I told Daniel about Wright and his life, and ordered an extra ticket, thinking Taliesin would be a great educational experience. But while I was up late reading, Daniel was up late,too. And he was too tired to join me–choosing to close his eyes rather than open his mind. Which is exactly the same choice I made at his age–when I passed up the opportunity of having Vincent Scully teach me about architecture.
I learned my lesson. And I also learned not to expect my kids to know more than I did at their age–about architecture, or about life. So I didn’t press Daniel to change his mind or force him to come with me. I didn’t tell him the story of how I regret not taking the course. Because I know–as wise as he is– he won’t get that message. Not now. Someday I am guessing he will wish he made that trip to Taliesin. But apparently we are both late bloomers.