Looking and Seeing
November 24, 2019
Every Wednesday for the rest of my internship I will be participating in the here:now class at the Frye. I have discussed here:now gallery tours in a previous blog post, but the here:now class is a bit more extensive. This six-week class offers conversation-based gallery tours and studio art-making experiences for adults with dementia and their care partners. This is an entirely free program that requires simply a brief pre-registration. Priority is given to participants that are new to the program; past participants are welcome back as space is available. I am not only helping with the set-up and implementation of the here:now class, but I am also a participate in the program as a partner to a woman living with a cognitive impairment. I am so grateful to be able to be a part of this wonderful six-week program in such an immersive way.
Now that the foundation of this program is laid, lets take a moment to geek out about art history. First, I’d like to tell you about the story of the Judgement of Paris. A post-wedding shindig was being thrown and Eris, the goddess of discord, was not invited. Upset by her exclusion, Eris arrived anyway and threw a golden apple addressed, “to the fairest”, into a group of assembled goddesses. Three goddesses laid claim to the apple – Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. The decision of this issue was deferred to Paris of Troy. Each goddess offered Paris gifts in return for his choice. Paris eventually chose Aphrodite, who promised him the most beautiful woman for a wife. This trope was widely used throughout Italian and European art, typically with all three goddesses shown nude and as the object of our gaze from multiple perspectives. The Frye has a depiction of the Judgement of Paris by Franz von Stuck, pictured below.
Second, I would like to tell you about a piece titled Stella. While we have no idea who Stella is, she is positioned in a way that is quick to remind someone with a background in art history of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. This piece has actually been deemed as “bad” by a past art critic and as an example of a naked woman rather than a nude woman. While this piece is certainly not my favorite and not something I would ever choose to live with, I think deeming it as bad may be a bit extreme – but to each their own. Stella by Gustav Majer is shown below.
I introduce these works to you because this week the focus of the gallery tour and studio-art making portion was on these two pieces. As an art history student that has had a substantial background in Italian art, it was interesting to listen to such commonly represented depictions being interpreted by impartial viewers rather than art historians. Instead of feeling a familiar anxiety about whether or not my observations were too mundane or lacking an academic edge, I was able to enjoy these pieces by simply looking at them.
Every guided art history tour begins with a quiet moment to breathe in the piece being looked at. Then people are asked what jumps out at them. For many people on this tour when we discussed the Judgement of Paris there were comments on female nudity and the body shapes that had been chosen to be displayed. One woman highlighted the triangular composition that the piece had. When we looked at Stella it was brought up that the light seemed to have multiple sources (perhaps one of the reasons this was considered a bad painting) and that maybe this woman was painted to be in the style of the Birth of Venus as a way of the artist giving prestige and showing love to her. Of particular interest to the group was the ornate and monumental frame covered in gold leaf surrounding Stella.
The accompanying art project to this gallery tour was an absolute blast! We were given the choice to select a printed version of either of the two previously looked at paintings. In addition, everyone was given two poems about the Judgement of Paris (one from the past and one that is contemporary). We were then tasked with altering the printed version we chose however we saw fit, and adding in bits of the poem if so desired. The results were such a hoot! Some people covered up the women, some turned the women into protestors, some added their own embellishments to the background, and some created frames.
Time and time again I am shown the beauty of here:now and the gift that it provides to participants, both care givers and adults living with dementia. For the duration of that program, you aren’t a caregiver or an adult living with dementia, you are two people enjoying an afternoon together looking at art and being creative. A family is created within this program. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this group and I can hardly wait to see what other joys and afternoons of fun will be arriving over the rest of my internship.
In addition to participating in here:now this week I also ventured to Bainbridge Island for my supervisor, Mary Jane, to provide Meet Me at the Movies programming to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. The ferry ride over to the island was breathtaking. There is something about being out in the middle of brackish water surrounded by seagulls and grey sky that feels very cozy and surreal – like venturing into a new world.
Finally, I was able to go check out the Seattle Art Museum’s new exhibit: Flesh and Blood. They have unforgettable pieces from renowned artists of the High Renaissance such as Titian and Raphael, joined by the Baroque artist and absolute QUEEN Artemisia Gentileschi. As soon as I saw a flyer for this exhibit I knew it was something I needed to check out. I’m so glad I spent my Saturday meandering throughout this museum. In fact, I found myself utilizing the VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) that are employed during here:now tours. Having that tool of observation in my back pocket made my visit all the more enjoyable. Typically when people attend museums, they spend longer reading the descriptions than they do actually looking at the work in front of them. By utilizing VTS you bring yourself into the moment. I think that a lot of people look at things, but don’t actually see what they’re looking at. When I utilize VTS in my observation, it allows me to make sense of what I’m looking at and more easily get to a place of seeing.
That’s all for this week. Until next time!
Olivia is a psychology major and art history minor from Houghton, Michigan.