(Please excuse our terrible punny title! It just tickled me.) Living in DC offers many benefits, especially for a city-hungry gal like me who grew up in a cornfield. One of the BEST things however, is being within easy reach of the Smithsonian Institution, a network of museums that have millions of artifacts and art from around the world. And best of all? It’s all free! That means that on weekends we can take a quick train ride downtown and have the world at our fingertips!
While all the museums are amazing, my favorite is probably the National Gallery. We go several times a year for date days, and sometimes to show our friends and family who have come to visit around! It’s so vast that I still don’t think we’ve seen it all. The problem is that as much as I love this museum, and as much as I adore looking at the artwork, I don’t actually know that much (if anything) about art. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, but I don’t really know why. Or like … I’ll remember that this artist is especially famous and they are well known for something, but then I won’t know what that thing is (with the exception of some of the HUGE names like Monet, or anyone I’ve heard a podcast about).
I find that I am particularly baffled by modern art. Sometimes I will see something and I will just think “why”? Like the other day our good friend Aimee came to visit and we were looking around the modern art wing of the National Gallery, and we saw this:
This is basically… a pencil and an eraser. Only bigger than usual. And I like it, it’s cool, but why? I actually really liked this, even if I didn’t understand it. It was amazingly realistic. And I know that this is a popular thing, because right next door in the sculpture garden, there is this:
… which is basically another kind of eraser. Only giant? Yes, this sort of modern art is strange, but it’s still a lot better than terrifying metal rabbits or nightmarish monsters made of toothbrushes. (Don’t worry, we’ll spare you those particular photographs …)
And once in an art class I took in high school, they made us make scale versions of something and I picked scissors. So I have in my parents house somewhere a moderately large pair of scissors made of wood and some paint.
But here is the thing… why? What makes this art and not just a larger than usual pencil?
Or Mondrian for example. He is the Dutch painter who is known for making these:
…which is some lines, some of which have colors and some of which don’t. Why is this? I like to look at it but is it supposed to be something? Does it mean something? Is it important that some are squares and some are rectangles? Why primary colors? Would it still be art if he used like… orange and pink? Is it even supposed to mean something or doesn’t it need to? Am I thinking about it too hard? Probably!
He is the one who is known for doing those splatter paintings. I really really like a lot of them, like this one we saw with Aimee last week. I think it’s soothing for some reason. But why? What makes this amazing art and this:
… just some random splatterings that Emma and I made with our leftover easter egg dye this week? Personally, I think Emma has found her calling. Me? Not so much. (Besides the fact that ours are terrible of course. But then again… what makes some splatters NATIONAL GALLERY grade and some just random mess we made in our living room?)
None of this is intended to be derogatory of the art we saw of course. Like I said, I LOVE this museum. I just don’t understand it in the least. What makes it art, and what’s even more important, what makes something MUSEUM QUALITY art and not just amateur art?
This week, I decided I wanted to actually do something about my confusion. And I, thoroughly perplexed by modern art and eager to learn more even if I’m not sure how much it’ll actually help, agreed to join in. I remembered that a while ago I took an AMAZING free course online about the social context of mental health and illness from Coursera and I wondered if they offered anything about art. I’d be interested in really any courses about art, but having JUST been at the east wing of the National Gallery, and having JUST gotten tickets for the amazing modern artist Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit at the Hirschorn (another museum where I have seen some perplexing things over the years), the course “Modern Art and Ideas” as taught by instructors from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) itself, seemed like a flawless plan! We already have a lot of things to talk about whenever we visit an art gallery but it’ll be exciting to give our discussions some sort of direction.
Over the next month or so Emma and I are going to be learning together, because what can be more fun than that? We may post some updates, but at the end we will definitely go back and see if any of the museums make any more sense to us now so be on the lookout for a post with some (probably still deeply wrong) modern art appreciation when this is all over. 😉
If you and your love spend time learning together too and have any fun stories, share them with us on instagram or twitter @emmasquaredblog!
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