I managed to squeeze only two semesters of art history into my academic career. Fortunately, both were while studying in France my junior year of college. Madame Jose didn’t ask us to memorize a long list of titles and artists; she asked us to look at select pieces and describe what we saw. I loved it. It probably didn’t hurt that on long weekends and school breaks I visited the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Uffizi Gallery, and the Musée National Marc Chagall.
On my travels that year I saw the Bayeux Tapestry, which stretches for almost a football field (well, not quite, but it is impressively long) with intricately embroidered ships, battles, and heroic storytelling. I saw Michelangelo’s David and unfinished Slave sculptures; the slaves look as though they are burdened to break off the weight of the stone from which they have begun to be carved. They make me feel like I, too, could break free. I love the unfinished “Slave” works even better than the finished masterpiece “David” I had intended to see. I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night and felt a jolt to see such a famous work in person and note the lumpy brushstrokes and see how the texture makes the image seem special even after seeing a million posters of it in college dorm rooms. And I saw a urinal Duchamp dubbed Fountain, not “beautiful” or a work of fine artistic craftsmanship, but a joke that someone (Madame Jose) had let me in on. Even though Fountain is an “important” piece of art, it was okay for me to laugh at it sitting in a museum on a pedestal. You can laugh too.
I recall a doctor’s visit late in the spring of my year in France. After the doctor diagnosed my ear infection, we spoke about Henri Matisse and his “période niçoise”. The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes was exhibiting paintings Matisse created while he lived in southern France. The good doctor and I chatted energetically about the colors and energy of Matisse’s work from that period and how the ample sunshine near Nice may have influenced the artist. Two amateur museum goers, in the midst of our everyday business, connected that day over some paintings we had both enjoyed looking at.
I have often daydreamed about taking another class to pick up where we left off (namely, Dadaism) but have not found the time or funds to do so. Instead, I graduated with a Radio-TV-Film degree, worked on independent movies doing a range of jobs from prop master to production coordinator, and occasionally traipsed to museums when I had free time. In 2011, my husband and I welcomed twin boys into the world, and my career hit pause. My previous jobs couldn’t cover the cost of two in (decent) daycare, so I stay home. And here, at home, I begin this blog.
I wish more people the joy of relating to each other about art that has spoken to them. So, in the spirit of Madame Jose, please join me in looking at some art and describing how what you see makes you feel.
When have you connected over art? I’d love for you to share your story in the comments!
If you want to learn more about the practical joke Duchamp pulled, you can read this article.