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Barnes Again

Many people view the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia as a complete violation of a dead man’s will. After all, Albert C. Barnes would not have enjoyed the audio tours, easy accessibility, gift shop, website… The list would be endless. His sole intention for the Barnes was to educate and enlighten those using art, and he arranged every single inch of the space with his way of seeing: through an artist’s lens, with thought and purpose in every part of the wall.

I started looking at the paintings one by one; I wanted to see every single piece of art in the area, which is usually my attitude when I go into a museum or gallery. The museum contained works by some of my favorite artists: Manet, Seurat, Cézanne, Pissarro, and Renoir. I enjoyed looking up close at the paintings (not too close, obviously, as there were clear markers around the perimeter of each room) then seeing the painting as a whole. In a Renaissance painting, it’s easy to see how the strokes contribute to the overall work. In comparison, an Impressionist painting has short, choppy strokes. Out of context with a small close-up of the painting, you would not be able to tell what it is. However, once you look at it from afar, you could see how the strokes make a face, flower, or change the lighting. However, I noticed the furniture, and door locks on the wall. I wondered what their purpose was.

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In all honesty, I feel as if Susan Sontag is being a little bit dramatic. While it would be nice and and more pure for us to not interpret art, I don't agree that it indicates dissatisfaction, and I also don't think that it's possible for us to NOT interpret art. When I'm looking at a piece of art, at first I just take in the colors, shape, and medium. After that, I try to think about what the artist was thinking of when he/she painted it, therefore attempting to interpreting it. Also, as an art history major, I have to interpret art. Interpreting art doesn't violate or desecrate it in any way; I feel as if interpreting art is another way of appreciating and understanding art. Seeing art, hearing art, and feeling art is interpreting the art.

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Revisiting the Barnes

There was so much anticipation in my head when I went to the Barnes Foundation. I had wanted to go for a while, since my mother had told me about it, and how it housed pieces by some of my favorite artists: Seurat, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, and much more. Impressionism was one of my favorite eras of art, and I was going to take advantage of this trip into Philadelphia.

My mother had informed me that there was a period where Albert C. Barnes wouldn’t let anyone into the foundation. Countless amounts of people had written requests to Barnes, asking to visit, but many had been rejected. My mother may have also mentioned there was some controversy with the foundation, but I think she touched too lightly upon the subject for me to completely register and remember the facts. Therefore, I had walked into the Barnes partially the way Walker Percy had intended us to: without a lot of prior knowledge.

However, I had built the museum up in my head a lot. I do this a lot with other things, too. Sometimes I’ll say that someone absolutely has to watch a movie or read a book, and that it’s probably the best movie or book in existence. When this happens, people are usually disappointed. While I did build the Barnes Foundation up a lot in my head, I was not disappointed at all. I feel as if the difference this time was that I didn’t know what paintings would be in the foundation, and that I didn’t know how the foundation would be set up.

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Re-reading the Barnes

I thought the story of the Barnes was really interesting. I thought that the documentary, Art of the Steal, was a little bit pretentious but did open me up to what happened after Barnes died. However, if I were to visit the Barnes again, I would not view the museum differently, as it doesn't really change the fact that it's full of art that is meant to educate and enlighten people through Barnes' version of art. I probably would choose a different painting, because I felt as if the one I chose wasn't very interesting.

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Speaking with Art

Stepping into the Barnes Foundation was nothing short of majestic. I had been looking forward to going to the Barnes for several months; even Cordelia knew how excited I was. Some people say that when you build up something you haven’t experienced in your head, all that happens is that you get disappointed. Fortunately, while I did build the museum up in my head onto a lofty pedestal, “disappointed” was definitely a word I would never use to describe my time at the Barnes Foundation.

I chose Le linge, or The Laundry, painted by Édouard Manet in 1875 to study in isolation. The painting is of a woman and a child doing the laundry in a garden. Impressionism is one of my favorite periods of art – to be honest, it’s probably everyone’s favorite period of art. There’s something about the soft, quick brushstrokes of this art period that makes me feel at ease. The painting of a woman and (possibly) her child creates a personal atmosphere, rendering it a domestic scene typical of many paintings during this time.

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17 Border Crossings

I love hearing stories, and I thought the way Thaddeus Phillips told his stories were pretty great, as I was enthralled with his use of the space around him. The lights and storytelling were very effective, and I really enjoyed the performance. After discussing it in class, I loved how we were all talking a lot and reminiscing while attempting to recall all 17 border crossings. It helped us connect as a class, which I appreciated. In addition, I thought it was cool when he mentioned countries that I've been to, like Singapore, Indonesia (Bali, specifically), Cuba, etc. Sometimes Thaddeus Phillips would ask us to close our eyes and imagine that we were on a train. This made us feel like we were a part of the story.

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It was an upward spiral. Not just for my emotions, but the building I was in. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is a cylindrical art haven that has the viewer walk up in large spirals to different rooms full of beautiful art. There can be similarities drawn towards the spiral staircase in the Vatican, both in design and spiritual experience. I started my journey, but did not know where it would take me.

The lobby was a little bit crowded, full of people waiting to start their artistic expeditions. Though I was with my family, I knew that this was something I wanted to experience by myself. As I made my way up the first tier, I read the sign that said that the Impressionist painting section was coming up. I paused, took out my headphones, plugged them into my iPod, and began to play Claude Debussy’s beautiful piano pieces. Clair de Lune, Danse Bohémienne, Pagodes – the music these artists were all inspired by. I felt ready to enter the room. I could see how Impressionism worked: the paintings reflected how the music sounded, one small part didn’t seem like much, but altogether it harmonized perfectly.

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I could see the lonely walls, which have witnessed too much. I could see the abandoned floor, which has been victim of pacing and madness. I could see the abused door, which has been the tool of solitude and punishment since 1829. I could see the Eye of God, but didn’t feel as if that could save me. I felt the bulge of my smart phone in the back pocket of my jeans. Resisting the urge to check if I had any messages, I sighed and looked around the room for the umpteenth time. My time in the Eastern State Penitentiary was merely a fraction of what the prisoners in the past had spent; however, in this day and age, with technology and our decreasing attention spans, it felt as if I was in there for months.

Our dependency on technology makes it difficult for us to stay still for long periods of time. These days, it is almost impossible to go a day without consulting some kind of machine or device. Letters have been replaced by emails, which have been replaced by text messages. Instead of waiting seven days to receive a letter from a friend, we now only have to wait seven seconds. We have developed an intolerance of anything that takes longer than a few moments, and this is why half an hour alone in a nineteenth-century prison cell seems like such torture to my generation.

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Reading Eastern State

Solitary confinement was not a situation to be accepted without a fight. Eastern State Penitentiary was an innovative attempt at changing the very hearts of prisoners, but which failed to take into account the role of kindness. The idea of reforming prisoners rather than just looking them up was revolutionary and enlightening, even though it tended not to work in the practices Eastern State used.

The cell is cold and a little bit smelly. I am afraid and do not want to stay any longer at all. The grey walls around me make me feel lonely and constrained. From the outside, one thinks this fortress is strict and organized and is reforming thousands of prisoners. From the inside, the prison is falling apart. Isolation is hard to truly come by, though, if achieved, it does encourage contemplation, which, unfortunately, does not necessarily encourage reform. I cannot imagine the games the mind must play when it only has itself for company.

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The Desire of Common Sense (co-written with Natalie Schall)

We all have ideal stories for book characters. When we see a character struggling, common sense takes over and forces the reader to think about how their story should be happening. Zadie Smith’s NW refuses to allow the reader have this perfect story, and instead defies the flawlessness of common sense for all characters.

From a common sense point of view, Felix would be perfectly happy in his relationship and sure that it’s right for him, without having to check that he loves Grace because he doesn’t like sex with other women anymore. In a perfect world, he would separate himself from anything to do with Annie, his ex-girlfriend with whom he still has sex and meaningful conversations with.

It isn’t that Felix is not happy with Grace, just that he’s not as happy as he could be. She is not his true love, but she is good enough that he can feel content and safe spending the rest of his life with her. Especially after going back to Annie and double checking that Grace is, indeed, seemingly better for his sake.

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