Rediscovering my love of art through Vincent van Gogh

It’s been over four months since I have posted anything to this blog. Actually, it’s closer to five. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write; indeed, I’ve started about 10 posts, half of which are still saved in my Drafts folder, but I (obviously) never finished any of them. There are a few factors that have contributed to my absence from the blogosphere: over the summer, I took on a second temporary job (in addition to my regular 32-hour-a-week job) for the CU Museum of Natural History in which I created a prototype mini-exhibition program called Exhibits in the Dorms; I got engaged in June and have been doing some moderate wedding planning ever since; and August saw the beginning of the Fall semester (though I am thankfully only taking one graduate class). Furthermore, my 94-page thesis sucked the will to write for educational recreation right out of me.

Aside from being busy, I have a confession I must make: there are many days where I’m not sure if I even like art anymore. Perhaps even hate it. I still see a lot of art (mainly contemporary), most of which I am thoroughly unimpressed by because of poor craftspersonship and the current market. When I look at a lot of art these days, I see capitalism at work (as art can be a good, unregulated place to invest money and the wealthy can determine who everyone should think is “good”). I see intellectual pissing matches in my graduate classes, where everyone is trying to prove that they are the smartest or that they have the most shocking and important things to say. I see the notes in the margins of my thesis from my advisor, tearing my words and ideas apart.

There’s no point in beating around the bush: I’m bitter. Plain and simple.

I have occasional moments where I am impressed by art, especially if it’s Modern or older. I suppose I can be considered something of a traditionalist when I say that I love meticulousness, a skilled hand, and a strong attention to detail, which, in terms of contemporary art, can be seen in the works of Ben JackelFred Tomaselli or Barbara Takenaga. I also like artists who acknowledge art historical predecessors in their work (albeit in an often humorous or derogatory sense), like Ged Quinn or Kent Monkman. And I love art that pokes fun at the market surrounding it, such as Banksy’s recent stunt in Central Park in which he was selling his own canvases for $60, but since they were so cheap, few people believed it was him or that the works were “valuable.” However, it is Modern master Vincent van Gogh who has managed to move me to tears in recent months and remind me that, yes, I really do love art.

Vincent van Gogh, “First Steps, after Millet,” 1890, oil on canvas. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Source)

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Revisited: On studying Art History (seriously– is it a useless degree??)

It appears that the most popular post on this blog is On studying Art History (a useless degree?). In fact, one of the most common search terms I get is some derivative of “Is an art history degree useless?” Unsurprisingly, I saw a pronounced spike in this type of search around college application time. My previous post discussed what one can do with an Art History degree at a rather broad level, as I am sure that there are other things one can do with such a degree that I haven’t thought of. However, I did get one search phrase once– “is studying art history hard”– that I would like to delve into a bit more, as well as more real world analysis of what it is like to study and work in the arts.

Brilliant man, Einstein.

Let’s start with the inspiring question of “Is studying Art History hard?” Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but so are most areas of study. Everything requires work whether you are good at it or not, and what it really comes down to is if you care about it. Things can seem especially difficult if your mind does not operate along the lines dictated by your chosen discipline. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

For Art History, there are different skills that one needs to acquire and cultivate, including (but not limited to): memorization, which is necessary pretty much anywhere but in terms of Art History means remembering scholars’ arguments, specific artworks, events, dates, etc; analysis, or being able to look at an artwork and scrutinize how it is made, what it means, and so on; critical thinking, which is tied to analysis and basically means reading between the lines and questioning an argument or artwork; efficient communication, both in terms of writing and speaking so that one can make an effective argument. When I started grad school, I had spent most of my academic and professional careers thinking in more practical terms (and I mean practical in the “practice” sense of the word): in art conservation and collections management, there are set ways in which one handles or takes care of an object, like not touching an antique silver teapot with your bare hands. Granted, many rules in the various academic disciplines are made to be questioned, as questioning and reformulating ideas are what drives knowledge forward (and since conservation is a very scientific field, it is as open to evolving ideas as chemistry is). However, unless someone develops a better glove than nitrile, I doubt that anyone will be changing how they handle silver any time soon. Continue reading

The Myths– and Realities– Behind the Stereotype of the Elitism of Art History

Raphael, “School of Athens” (c. 1509)
(Source)

I recently started using the app Zite on my iPad, a sort of news-related RSS feed which is programmed to cater to your reading tastes the more you use it. I naturally chose Arts and Culture as one of my top categories, and the following article, originally in The Guardian, caught my attention: “History of art: a degree for the elite?” This article was written by Joy Starkey, a third-year Art History undergraduate at Cambridge University. It seems to be more relevant to the British academic and artistic scenes, and consequently, I had a little more trouble relating to it. However, it’s main point was quite clear: art– and therefore Art History– is quite literally put on such a pedestal that it is typically seen as inaccessible for most people, thus its study is believed to be limited to the elite few. And I mean “elite” in the literal sense of the word. According to Starkey, this stereotype is particularly prevalent in England, as Art History is a popular major amongst royals and the wealthy. She additionally points to other key factors in this perceived inaccessibility: the collecting of art tends to be pastime for the rich, art is often seen as cryptic (therefore those who can decipher it clearly are privileged), and art museums– which I should note regularly brush shoulders with the wealthy in order to acquire their art for exhibition loans– are inherently “treasure-oriented” with their presentation of objects on pedestals and white walls. I certainly agree with Starkey that the appreciation and study of art does not have to be limited to the pompous and privileged (I myself come from a thoroughly middle class background). Furthermore, I do not believe that Art History has to be a niche subject, and I wholly agree with her statement that art is “anything but elitist… Art is one of the most vivid ways of viewing history — it is an intimate glimpse into someone’s world.” However, I have to counter-argue that there still are degrees of elitism in the arts sector beyond its financial prevalence as a hobby for the wealthy, and they still pervade academia.  Continue reading

Life Lessons and Vintage Photos

I spent the better part of the last month in an academic hole, preparing for and taking my comprehensive exams (and it has already been confirmed that I passed the minor portion). In my anxiety-ridden state, I thought a lot about my Grandma. I thought about words of comfort she may have had– especially her favorite quote, “This, too, shall pass”– or life lessons that are far more worth remembering than issues in the methodologies of Andre Breton versus Georges Bataille. Since it is high time that I upload the photos I said I would in my To Grandma(s) page (which has now been updated), I would like to share some of these thoughts.

ca. 1942

Always store your photos in acid-free materials.

ca. 1930

Take some time to relax and smell the flowers.

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Semester assessment

There is a certain relief that one feels once they are fully aware of what they are getting themselves into. It’s an ironic feeling, since one would think that it’s better not knowing so that they can enjoy the remaining freedom that they have left. But not for me. I prefer knowing what the forecast looks like, even if that means finding out when the storm hits. After weeks of dreading what this semester could hold in store for me, I have now been to all 3 of my classes; while I had a bad hour on Monday after my History class, in which I considered dropping the class, I have decided that I will be able to survive this semester. Better than that: I should be able to take comps around October 12 and am relatively confident that I can pass.

However, I am going to be up to my eyeballs in work, especially until October. I should be able to squeeze my classwork into the week, but the weekend is going to be nothing but comps-studying. I have been lucky over the summer to be able to post every day or so, but it’s going to slow down now. My posts related to crafting have already suffered, and they are unfortunately going to suffer more because, at least until October, I have not idea how I will find time to crochet. On the other hand, I may resort to keeping my eyes open to cool stuff to post that is not one of my creations. Perhaps it is time that I open a Pinterest account…

This blog has become one of the best studying tools that I have ever used; indeed, it has been a tool for focus in general, as I doubt I would have been able to get through as much of my crocheting as I did without the “likes” and encouragement from others. However, the academic focus of this blog is going to shift a little bit during the course of the semester. While I will still post reviews of my comps-related books and articles (though arguably not as many as I posted over the summer, since it takes quite a bit of time to type them up), I am also going to post reviews of the books I am reading for my History class. These will be preparation for the actual reviews that I have to turn in to my class. Only one of these books– Print the Legend— relates to art. Everything else deals with Native Americans (indeed, race and ethnicity in American in general), environmental history, etc.

I am also going to be posting more reviews of museums. This too will be preparation for my weekly papers that I am writing for my Intro to Museum Studies class. We are going to be visiting a lot of different museums throughout the semester– art, history, science, and children’s museums– some of which I have never been to before.

Finally, I may post some thoughts on what I am learning throughout the week. One of the great– and worst– things about grad school is that we are forced to think critically about what we are learning. I’ve got a lot of different things I am learning about this semester, and therefore I may occasionally have a really great idea that I cannot help but share.

Thank you all for reading and bearing with me as I journey through grad school!

Things I dream about doing… after grad school

I have dedicated a lot of this blog’s bandwidth to rambling about grad school. Not a whole lot, but far more than I had originally intended. Summer has really opened my eyes to the glory of not being in school– in addition to revealing that everyone you know gets married in their mid- to late-20s– and I cannot believe that I ever used to get angsty about feeling bored.

My hate-love-hate relationship with grad school is kind of like my relationship with this meme.
(Source)

My relationship with grad school is best described as hate-love-hate– you know, kind of like West-Northwest, which is when you’re headed in a more Westward-ly direction than a simple 45 degree-Northwest– because, while I love learning new things and feeling like I am benefiting my career, I cannot even begin to express how stressful school can be some weeks. It’s not necessarily the copious amount of reading and writing– I’m actually pretty fond of the writing (shocking, I know– I only post on my blog every other day)– that gets to me so much as the classroom experience.

I’ve got 13 days until I’m back in school. One of my upcoming classes meets for seven hours a week. Seven. Two hours on Mondays and five hours on Wednesdays. All of my other classes– in the past and next semester– meet for 2.5 hours a week. Granted, the five-hour sessions are field-trip oriented, but still: seven hours for one class.

I’ve thought a lot about what my life is going to be like next summer, which is hopefully when I’ll be done with my Master’s degree. I don’t want to revert back to my pre-grad school ways– sitting on the couch all night playing Tiny Wings or Angry Birds, reading the news off of CNN.com like there is no tomorrow– because there is no denying that grad school has changed me. I can’t imagine being lazy after this experience. However, as much as I actually enjoy reading scholarly material now (seriously, I kind of do), there are other things I would like to do with my time as well. Continue reading

The difficulties of kicking it “new school”

I think I used one of these… once…
(Source)

Considering that I am in my mid-20’s and grew up watching cordless phones turn into cell phones, which have now turned into mini computers and cameras, I have been shockingly behind the ball when it comes to new technology. A lot of it has been because I simply cannot afford the hottest new electronics when they first come out. However, a lot of it is also because I tend to be a little old school anyway: I hand-write everything– my notes from the books I have been reading this summer (which means that it often takes a ridiculously long time to get through one chapter), to-do lists, class notes– I read real books, and I prefer to make things rather than go out and buy them. I could not bring myself to buy a smartphone until this past January (though I have had an iPod Touch since last year, which was equally difficult to transition to after using a traditional iPod since 2005. And don’t get me started on how difficult it was for me to transition from CD Walkman to iPod). I have also been using the same Macbook laptop since 2008. Of course, everything is relative when it comes to technology, as it seems to advance in leaps and bounds every few months, eventually rendering 3-year-old technology completely obsolete.  Continue reading