When I read a post about taking your time at art museums on A Cup of Jo, I was taken by the idea. I know I’m a technology addict; therefore, I’m always interested in ways to slow down. Taking 20 minutes to look at a single piece of art seemed like a unique way to unwind and more exciting than meditation. At the same time, I was also accepting ‘prompts’ on Tumblr. ‘Prompts’ are a creative writing exercise in which someone suggests a fictional character and a situation for you to write a story about. I enjoy the activity because it’s a challenge for me to be creative and allows me to improve my writing skills. I decided to adopt both techniques for my visit to the DIA. It has been a successful exercise and I recommend it as a way to learn more about art and yourself.
Step 1: Pick a gallery and spend 15-20 minutes looking at all the art in the room.
Step 2: Select a piece that speaks to you and get comfortable (I sit on the floor).
Step 3: Examine the piece for 5-10 minutes. Think about the artist’s technique, message, and emotions.
Step 4: Grab a pen/paper and write. It can be a fiction piece or your thoughts on the art. Put your feelings on paper. Remember it’s not being graded and you don’t have to share it. Let loose and identify your inner thoughts.
I find it frustrating when people make recommendations but don’t provide detail in how to complete a task; therefore, I’ll share a couple samples. As previously noted, these weren’t written with the idea of being for public consumption. Consequently, the pieces are unedited from my notebook. The first piece is a fictional prompt and the second a reflection on my thoughts about a sculpture from the Egyptian exhibit. The latter is particularly special because Adam chose the exhibit. I shamefully stick to the American/European galleries when I visit the museum alone. I was a little disappointed when he selected Egypt because I didn’t know what I would write about. To my surprise, I found several pieces that intrigued me and it was a transformative experience. I know trying new things is good but I’m often reluctant to initiate change. Adam forced me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot about myself and the world – that’s the true benefit of the exercise. It will be dark and chilly for the next few months and getting cozy in the DIA is a great way to spend your day.
Madame Paul Poirson, 1885 by John Singer Sargent
Madame Poirson maintained composure as she stood for her portrait. She could hear the quiet voices of her maids admiring her dress. The elaborate gown of tafetta, silk and beaded lace was designed for the occassion. The portrait would hang in the halls of her husband’s home, surrounded by her predecessors and admired for generations. She knew she should feel grateful, for hers was the life that most could hardly dream of. Her father’s flagging reputation and mounting debt made her recent union all the more unlikely and impressive. She was the talk of the society pages and while most assumed she reveled in her new found position, Madame Poirson – Eugenie – abhorred it. The tight corset constricted her breath and her ability to sob over her unhappiness. The black collar necklace felt a like a choke hold that prevented her from speaking her mind and the gold bracelets felt like chains restricting her freedom.
Her husband treated her well but she was a prize – not a companion. A large mansion, servants and jewels might be enough to satisfy many women but she wanted more. Eugenie longed to feel the love she read of in novels but had never experienced first hand. She’d seen it as a child but only between their garden and his wife. Their whispered jokes and sneaked kisses even after decades of marriage. Eugenie longed to feel that sort of love and security but it was not her fate. Instead she would do as expected, play her role and let those who saw her portrait believe as they wished.
Head of a Man, 200-150 BCE, Egyptian
I love history but my interest stems from my ability to relate to people in a certain space and time. For that reason my study of history is limited to the modern era and European based cultures. My interest and understanding of art is similiarly rooted in my ability to connect. I appreciate portraits that look like photography. Ancient art is primitive and I can’t relate to the people being depicted. I’ve often wondered why images and scultpure look so different from the human body, particularly when art is internal and not necessarily built upon like technological advances. This sculpture turns my conception of ancient art on its head.
This man is real. His features detailed and refined. The curves in his ears, lines on his face and emotion in his eyes. It introduces me to a man I could see at a store or the park. He appears to be intelligent and I wonder how he spoke, what were his mannerisms and what were his beliefs. Did he value human life? Did he laugh? What did he do when he was angry? All these questions come to mind and I wonder about his world in a way I’ve never done before. I also wonder about the artist. Were all his sculptures like this? Did others make art as he did? Is what we see in books and museums merely a fraction of what was available in the era in which we represent/know about it?