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The Value of Presentation

             What does a painting look like? That depends, here are many different way to look at the same painting and each person that views it will see it in a new way. However, the viewer is not the only factor that can be changed to alter the way a painting looks. The environment in which it is displayed is also a very important factor in what the painting looks like even though it is not an inherent trait of the painting. This applies not only to art, but to everything in the world. The way in which something is presented is a key factor in determining how that thing is perceived and understood.

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Responding to "Against Interpretation"

In her essay, Sontag talks about interpretation and how the act of interpreting something alters the original thing to the point that it becomes something else entirely. When reading this I find myself playing the believing game a lot, I really want to take in all of what she says and go with her arguments. I also found myself making personal connections to what she is saying, tying it back to everything from my trip to the Barnes Foundation to my high school english classes. These connections along with the use of the believing game make Sontag's claims so much more real, it seems obvious how interpreating a piece of artwork of literature can completely reshape it to fit whatever mold the interpreter chooses for it. 

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The Presentation of Art

            There in never just one way to look at and understand anything. Not only does each person bring their own knowledge and experience into their view, their perspective is also shifted by the surrounding conditions. Generally people do not look for the subtle effects that the presentation of an object has on the meaning of that object. The way in which an object is presented has a strong effect on the overall meaning and purpose of that object. This is especially true when talking about art. Most people look only at the artwork itself and don’t consider the affect that its surroundings and their own prior knowledge have on how they see the art.

            Albert Barnes, the creator of the Barnes Foundation, was a strong believer in the idea that the viewing experience and understanding of art is entirely reliant on the way that it is presented. As he created and grew his private art collection that later became the Barnes Foundation, he paid very close attention to the placement of each and every piece inside his house. He arranged them all in such a way as to create connections between all the different pieces in each room and on each wall. No piece was meant to be viewed alone. When the foundation was opened, Barnes used these careful arrangements to teach his students how they should look at the collection and at art in general.

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The True Value of Art

After revisiting the Barnes Foundation through the movie and articles and through the class discussion, my reading of the visit has been provided with a new context. The first time trough I through I thought only of the Seurat painting that I chose to spend time with. Re-reading this experience, it is clear to me that I need to look at that painting not only for what it is on its own, but for how it fits into the grand scheme of the room and the rest of the works in the collection. The way Barnes put everything together, it was meant to be viewed as a part of a greater whole not as an individual piece.

Another Idea that we discussed at length in class is the true value of art. In a rewrite of the essay I wrote, I would talk about how the true value of art comes not from what you see in the piece, but in how you experience it. Through this perspective, the art collected in the Barnes Foundation should never have been moved from its original location because the place where the work is held and the way in which it is displayed is a huge part of how it is experienced. Every last detail is significant in determining the value of the artwork. Moving the collection redefined the true value of the art into something that Barnes (the original creator of this collection’s true value) did not intend, changing not only the value of the art but, by extension, the art itself. 

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"Entreé du port de Honfleur" by Georges Seurat

            This afternoon I had the opportunity to spend time with many incredible pieces of artwork at the Barnes Foundation. In all of the pieces I saw, one that stood out to me more than the rest was “Entreé du port de Honfleur” by Georges Seurat. It is a pointillist painting of a group of sailboats coming into port. I can’t really explain why this particular piece stood out to me so much more than the others, it wasn’t particularly large or placed as a central focus of the room it was in, it was just there on the wall, begging me to come look at it.          

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17 Border Crossings

            On my journey to see 17 Border Crossings, I had the opportunity to experience my own sort of border crossing. Unfortunately, this also meant that I was unable to make it to the theater in time to actually see the show. However, after some brief research about the show and about Thaddeus Phillips, I realized that my experience on Sunday afternoon, although less exciting, fit into a similar category as those told in the performance. Everything that was beyond control pretty much went wrong at one point of another. I was faced with the challenge of crossing the physical border from Bryn Mawr to Philadelphia on the SEPTA. This experience made me realize that sometimes things don’t work out as you intend and you have to be ready to embrace the challenges as they come and move forward. Although I was unable to attend 17 Border Crossings, my experiences this weekend were a good representation of the performance and its character. 

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Deep Play

            As I walked through the cell blocks and out in the prison yard at Eastern State Penitentiary last weekend, I could feel the weight of the prison’s past coming down on me. Being inside those walls felt like being in a whole different universe, I felt disconnected from not only the immediate surroundings of the prison, but also from my own life and experiences. With every step I took I distanced myself farther and farther from myself and moved closer and closer to a timeless state of contemplation and inner peace. Standing inside the cell I felt trapped initially thinking of the hole in the wall where the door would once was as if the door still remained and I truly was contained in the cell. However, as time went on I no longer felt this sense of being trapped in the cell in the same sense, I was able to spend the time with myself and my surroundings. The walls whispered stories to me through the cracks and the dust on the floor filling the silence with the sounds of their past and mine. Looking out the narrow window in the back of the cell I was transported back in time it seemed, able to feel the prison as it was back when it’s cells were still filled.

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The Downfall of Eastern State Penitentiary

            When Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829, it was meant to be the greatest prison created to date. The Quaker reformers who conceived the prison were disgusted by the way in which incarceration was handled in the United States. Everything from the physical condition of the prison itself to the treatment of the prisoners was good for nothing more than detaining criminals as opposed to trying to actually solve the problem. Eastern State was meant to solve all of those problems by looking at incarceration from an entirely new perspective.   

            As a concept, Eastern State was the perfect prison. It was designed for penitence through solitary confinement. The idea was that if the prisoners were forced to be alone with their nothing but their own thoughts for the duration of their sentence, they would eventually reflect on their crimes and reform their ways at some point. Each prisoner had their own cell and exercise yard where they were confined for the entirety of their sentence. In order for this to work, the quality standard of the cells had to be higher including the best plumbing and heating available. One of the main points the Quaker reformers worked towards was that the prisoners were not being punished but rather reformed and prepared to reenter society to need incarceration again.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

ESP was a place where they believed prisoners in solidarity would be able to repent for their sins, so that upon their release they would live more wholesome lives. Eastern state penitentiary is an exemplary pioneer in the pursuit of reforming prisoners through isolation. It should work cause the nature of human beings is kindness, so as long as they stay alone and contemplate, they will eventually find the way to their true heart. The Eastern state not only punish the prisoner, but also save them.

Solitary confinement was not a situation to be accepted without a fight. From the POV of Samuel Bruster, an uncooperative prisoner sentenced to five years of solitary confinement, ESP is a place where if you follow the rules and life a life in solidarity, it will drive you mad, as these conditions are not humane. The solitary confinement was not going to make him a better person, it would just drive him mad. He had to be uncooperative to give himself something to do.

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Keisha Blake Defining Her True Essence

            Existentialism is a philosophical movement focused on the “analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.” (Existentialism) This particular movement deals heavily with the idea that human existence is as it is perceived and there is no general human experience, just individual’s experiences. (Crowell) A significant philosopher and proponent of this idea was Jean-Paul Sartre who first created the idea that “existence precedes essence.” (Crowell) This means that humans are not born with any predefined essence or nature, it must be created through their actions and decisions.

            In the book “NW” by Zadie Smith, all of the main characters go through their own form of identity crisis, however, none quite as explicitly or extensively as Keisha Blake. From very early age Keisha had trouble figuring her identity and how her own perception of herself was related to how other saw her. As she continued thought her life, this crisis followed her, even after she changed her first name to Natalie in an attempt to leave her past behind her. She spent her whole life trying to cover one identity with another only to end up with a completely different identity that she did not want to have.

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