CMS.405 Media and Methods: Seeing and Expression

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1 MIT OpenCourseWare CMS.405 Media and Methods: Seeing and Expression Spring 2009 For information about citing these materials or our Terms of Use, visit:

2 EXPERIENCE AND ART I approached my trip to the Museum of Fine Art as a search for quality, and finding quality was harder than it looked. People swirled around me rustling and making small talk as I tried to look at the different exhibitions. I was forced to stand in long queues and herded around the museum with a large crowd. I could hardly concentrate with all the chatter around me. During the visit, I quickly picked up John Szarkowski s idea and understood that the object in living is to unite... as my two eyes in sight. I realized that finding quality in art depended not only on the work itself, but also on the mood and the past experience of the observer. At the top floors of the museum, I could not help but feel rushed. I had walked walked 3 miles to see the museum in the cold, and I felt obligated to see the entire museum in a single day. With more people entering the gallery space than leaving, my experience viewing many of the paintings amounted to no more than cursory glances at the paintings and skimming the wall texts next to them. My visit would have most likely continued in this fashion if not for the single piece that stopped me in my tracks. Date: February 28,

3 2 Giovanni Paolo Panini s Gallery with Views of Modern Rome depicted the splendor of Rome. Created to commemorate thousands of years of culture, his eye catching work used bright colors and employed complexities that demonstrated to the viewer the skill and power centralized in Rome. The painting showed the light flooding into the Roman gallery from the side windows, illuminating the high ceiling and arches, along with the small paintings scattered in the gallery depicting life in Rome. The smaller paintings, lined in perfectly straight rows and proportional in size to their own individual perspectives, toys with and creates a larger perspective for the viewer. Some of the paintings are hung down narrow corridors; others are hung higher and some are tilted sideways. The arches creating the large gallery were well aligned, orienting the viewer by showing the depth of the gallery. The skill and beauty of this painting was undeniable, able to impress even the most casual of viewers. I was not just impressed though, I was transported. There I was, sitting on a river boat in the middle of the river in Amsterdam. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the reflection of water cast brightly rippling lights on the side of the boat. Even with a light wind-breaker in the middle of July, the day was cool, and the humidity against my skin felt clammy and uncomfortable. The slight rocking of the boat, made those walking around me compensate, putting more force in each step to keep their balance. Peering in the distance, I could see what seemed to be a never-ending row of small arch bridges. The small stones pieced together to make the bridges

4 EXPERIENCE AND ART 3 were old, and cracks were forming between the grout used to hold them together. The side of the bridges were decorated with small rounded Christmas lights, which had yet to be removed, even though it was well into the summer. As the riverboat entered each arch, the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world washed over me. I could feel the whispers of the others on the boat became more audible, as did the constant slurping noise of the water colliding with the bridge. As my thoughts of my trip faded away, I was gradually brought back to place in the museum in front of the Panini painting. Immediately more open to the idea of finding quality in the museum, even with the mass migration of tourists, I began to look more closely for quality. The second piece I came across was John White Alexander s Pot of Basil. The painting first intrigued me because of the dark monochromatic colors used throughout the painting. Unlike the Panini s painting, this one probably would not have caught my attention had I continued my cursory inspection of the gallery. Furthermore, the light in the painting rises from the bottom, barely illuminating the rest of the room while a girl stands alone in the shadow with a large pot. The softness of her features and her white flowing dress made the dark painting extremely romantic as well. After further research, I learned that the Pot of Basil was actually a poem written by John Keats about a woman s dead lover, who was murdered by her brothers because they found their relationship unsuitable. After learning about his death through a

5 4 dream, she dug up his body, removed his head, and planted it in a pot of basil. The story is outlandish and disturbing, but I felt like I was included in a secret that no one else knew. The idea of secrecy and the story of her trance-like devotion to her dead lover makes this monochromatic painting fascinating and engaging. I found myself thinking about another incident in my own life. In the early morning hours of a Saturday, the once crowded halls in MIT are blessed with stillness. The only things I could hear were the clicking of my feet against the linoleum and the soft swishing of my bag against my thick down coat. As I turned a corner, deep in thought, I heard the soft giggling of a girl and the bathroom door slam. I continued my walk, listening to the swish of the fabric of my coat rubbing against my bag, when I saw a closely-cropped head of brown hair peer out of bathroom. Realizing I was there, he suddenly jerked back, trying to get his head back in the bathroom before I noticed. As he was in the process of re-entering the bathroom, he stopped, probably realizing that I had already seen him. He gave me a look of panic and tried to hide behind the safety of the bathroom door. A few seconds later, he reemerged from the bathroom, smiled and scurried down the hall to get away from me. After all, I already knew about the lovers midnight rendezvous, and the problem he faced was a Catch-22. He would have had a hard time explaining why he was hiding in the women s restroom. I let out a small giggle and continued my museum visit.

6 EXPERIENCE AND ART 5 In a much better mood, I walked across the hall to finish my museum visit and ventured into a small dark pathway. I found myself in a small recreation of a Japanese temple with 3 sculptures lined up against the wall. Skillfully lit and creating complicated shadows, the foreign looking sprits and Gods looked more intimidating. The recreated temple had rounded rocks that separated the viewers from the sculptures. Engaged by the unfamiliarity of the sculptures, but relaxed by the quiet and dim space of the temple, I felt serene. The place felt sacred, something even the stroller toting mothers with their 3 screaming children could not disturb. A year ago, I tried adapting Alan Westin s Privacy and Freedom to a word art sculpture. I could feel the text reading in my mind as I took a pencil and started transferring my thoughts to paper. The gentle scratching of my pencil against the blank sheet of paper covered up all the rest of the sounds in my room. As forms started to appear, I sensed myself critiquing my sketch, as I pressed my fingers across the smooth paper leaving a line of smudges. I tilt my head to the side and sit back lifting the sheet of paper at eye level. I had sketched 3 words on a sheet of paper: anonymity, reserve, and intimacy. Now, these same three words depicted exactly how I was appreciating the temple. As my mood changed walking through the museum, I realized I was drawn to different works and associated different experiences with them. As I left the museum,

7 6 I realized that my museum visit was another experience to which I could refer back, and somehow I could not help but feel I would.

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