Study Guide

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Art and Culture

By E.L. Konigsburg

Art and Culture

To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (1.2)

The Met isn't known for its kid-friendly atmosphere, or for the fun things there are to do. There are no bowling alleys or arcades. But Claudia chooses it because even at her young age, she's aware that there's something important about being surrounded by art and history.

You've missed all this, Saxonberg. Shame on you! […] More than a quarter of a million people come to the museum every week […] And they all enter free of charge because that's what the museum is: great and large and wonderful and free to all. And complicated. (2.22)

To Mrs. Frankweiler and the kids, there's something pretty magical about the museum. It's so magical that it draws a large crowd of people every day, even tourists from all sorts of countries.

It was here Claudia knew for sure that she had chosen the most elegant place in the world to hide. She wanted to sit on the lounge chair that had been made for Marie Antoinette or at least sit at her writing table. (2.50)

Even at her young age, the Met speaks to Claudia because of all the old, elegant things she feels connected to. It could be just wishful thinking (because Claudia wants to be royalty), but still—she has an internal connection to these old objects that she sees. Do you ever feel connected to a part of history that you never experienced?

Claudia probably didn't realize that the museum has over 365,000 works of art. Even if she had, she could not have been convinced that learning everything about everything was not possible; her ambitions were as enormous and as multi-directional as the museum itself. (4.12)

Yikes! One week won't get the Kinkaid kids through that vast art collection, but it will sure give them a sense of all that culture from years past. After all, in the span of just a couple days, Claudia and Jamie learn plenty about Ancient Egyptian burial practices, and research a Renaissance artist.

A statue of an angel; her arms were folded, and she was looking holy. As Claudia passed by, she thought that that angel was the most beautiful, most graceful little statue she had ever seen… (4.20)

What is it about art that makes you feel something—even if you can't put your finger on it? For Claudia, seeing the angel is pretty much love at first sight. How romantic.

Are you altogether unconscious of the magic of the name of Michelangelo? I truly believe that his name has magic even now; the best kind of magic because it comes from true greatness. (4.78)

Great art is something that lives on forever and ever and ever. Don't believe us? Michelangelo's works have been around for hundreds of years, and Claudia and Jamie are still obsessed with the angel statue. If that's not staying power, then we don't know what is.

Jamie ended his research where Claudia had begun: very confident and happy. He felt his morning had been well spent; he had seen a lot of pictures and he had learned about pagan. (5.44)

It's fulfilling to learn about art and culture, a fact that Jamie discovers after spending a nice long day at the library looking at pictures. What Jamie doesn't realize that if he was allowed to watch TV (like he wanted to) he would have gotten to look at moving pictures all day.

Claudia didn't think about their close calls. They were unimportant; they wouldn't matter in the end, the end having something to do with Michelangelo, Angel, history, and herself. (6.46)

In the grand scheme of things, art takes precedence over Claudia's whole romantic notion of being a runaway. In the end, she doesn't really care that much about getting caught or sticking it to the man (a.k.a. her parents and school). She just cares about the statue.

There were the first lines of a thought that was to become a museum mystery 470 years later. There on that piece of old paper was the idea just as it had come from Michelangelo's head to his hand. (9.196)

The magic of art really comes to life in this instant, when Claudia and Jamie finally see the proof of Michelangelo's work. Even though it's just an old piece of paper, they handle it as though it's a million bucks. That's a good thing, too, because it really is worth a million bucks (or more).

"I've gathered a lot of facts about Michelangelo and Angel. And I've let them grow inside me for a long time. Now I feel that I know." (9.252)

And that's the beauty of art: it sticks with you and grows inside of you. It's not just common knowledge, like math or botany or science. It's something that's beautiful and unexplainable, but it's obviously done a lot for Mrs. Frankweiler in her long life.