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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The slow art approach to art history

I listened to my dad. He brought to my attention the possibility and the power of patience in art study.
The other day he sent me a link to a lecture by Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts. In this fast paced culture, she argues, teaching the virtue of patience in our curriculum would be doing a big service to our youngsters. They have so much imagery paraded constantly before their eyes... they look yet they don't see what takes a certain visual (and mental) adjustment, only available with some time, to see. She requires her students to look at a work of art- in a museum- for a minimum of three hours. "An excruciatingly long time", she admits... and then she tells us about her own recent experience and how, at 19 minutes, at 45 minutes... the painting opened up new windows and expanded her sensibilities. As Helen Keller said, "it is a terrible thing to see and have no vision".
We don't have 3 hours, or real masterpieces to study. But I thought, what about doing it for one class of 45 minutes... on a screen?
Today my students discussed, analyzed and started to paint Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night picture. I love the quote... but can't remember who said, "the hand teaches the eye to see".
My students were entranced, and they want to continue painting tomorrow. Before I could suspect them of stalling and delaying our fast track through European art history, I saw and heard them exclaim over seeing details such as the church and the village, and the repetitive rolling of the hills. Instead of showing them works to look at, they are seeing this one. They are creating a relationship with the painting.
So we will linger on it another day.
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