Monday, September 8, 2008

Art memory

Teaching art history for a few years and studying for much longer, I feel pretty confident about my ability to notice certain visual details in art. And happy to have introduced so many to the same. Those who have taken art history classes know the challenge of sitting in a dark classroom being fed slide after slide of images with the hope that enough detail is retained for the essay exam or that awful art identification quiz.

My current visit to NYC museums and galleries including The Met and MoMA has taught me that no matter how well we can identify works of art or even analyze these works, seeing them in person refreshes our eye for detail. I've often shown students J.M.W. Turner's emphasis on light in his history landscape paintings as a technique pointing towards the Impressionists. But my visit this week to the Turner show reminded me that seeing Turner's later works in person is no match for the digital slides I showed in class. The later paintings by Turner that make up the end of the exhibition are almost indistinguishable from Monet's well-known landscapes. Every gallery I have visited in New York this week reminded me of the same point. No matter how well versed we are in the arts, we must remember to resist relying on digital reproductions of works of art and insist on seeing them in person as often as possible.

In the coming days I will write more about the importance of visiting museums and galleries as an exercise in engaging art honestly.