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Muni's blog

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rewrite, lucky number 13

There is something defiant about Isaiah Zagar’s mosaics. Cities are built for efficiency, functionality, but not necessarily beauty. Yet, around South Street, a glimmer of light in the gap between two buildings could mean a mosaic of mirrors and color. Upon closer investigation, a pedestrian could find his or herself in a different Zagar’s art is a street intervention, playfully ignoring Philadelphia’s figurative and literal grids to bring subversiveness and spontaneity to its streets. 

Isaiah Zagar doesn’t always plan ahead where his next mosaic will be, what it will look like, or where he will get his materials. Many of his mosaics spill across alleyways and onto the back walls of houses, creeping along fence lines as if they’re no longer in the artist’s control. The mosaics fill cracks in alleys with seemingly random words and images. Looking at a map of Zagar’s mosaics is not like looking at a map of a typical art gallery. The mosaics make no distinctive pattern and many do not even appear on the map. In the magic gardens, the route you take is not restricted to a single path. Zagar’s art defies the city’s nearly symmetrical grid pattern in its meandering nature. The art is there “to disrupt the everyday actions in the city” by giving people a chance to think for themselves about what it could mean (Flanagan 14).

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Response to Sontag

I played a believing game with Sontag's essay as I read it. I've had similar thoughts occasionally--why can't we just appreciate something for its beauty or complexity without digging too much into it? Often, these thoughts were directed at "digging too deep" into literature for a class. After having done some more analysis of art in this class, as well as compiled such a big analysis toolbox, I've decided that interpretation can be really useful and can help me learn a lot about the art, artist, or even something else. Even if it's completely innacurate, the interpretation itself is a next way to interact with a piece. I agree with Sontag to an extent, though. Interpretation used as a tool too often leaves less space for pure appreciation of art.

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looking at art through belief

There are different ways to look at art. Some prefer to look at the method the artist used, noting thick paint strokes or bold colors. Others try to connect emotionally with the painting, or try and understand its context or what the artist “was trying to say.” Still others prefer to let the works wash over them without putting much thought into finding patterns. 

On my trip to the Barnes Foundation, I decided that I would try to look at the art in the foundation in a manner similar to the way we looked at the two pieces in class. I wouldn’t read the information packet, but try to come up with my own observations about the colors and shapes. Then, I would “read” what I had noticed, by connecting the dots and making inferences about what was going on. In this way, I would try and approximate Barnes’s way of appreciating art.

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significance in art

"Some pictures are unattractive and significant, some paintings are insignificant and attractive. This is both unattractive and insignificant. " - a guy in the movie

I was a little bit struck by how unfair a claim this is. I understand the "significance" of a piece to be equivalent to its historical relevance, and I can see how art historians have a very distinct idea of what art is relevant to them. Yet, a piece of art could have historical significance that isn't from as limited a perspective of an art historian's. It could have been passed down throughout the generations of a family, or created by a friend or loved one. Then, there's the "attractiveness" of art. Generally, certain things are more pleasing to the eye than others--complementary colors, good framing of the subject, etc. But if the subject perhaps reminds the viewer of the viewer's friend, that particular viewer might find the piece to be quite attractive. I think that certain elements of attractiveness can be attributed to taste. Despite this, I think there is some validity to the statement, in that the painting might not have been attractive or significant to Barnes. I'm actually pretty sure Barnes would argue that the emotional connections to the painting that I speak of are from a lack of training in the viewer, and that the emotional connection should be found after having analyzed the painting from a more educated point of view.

I'm still not sure what I want to write about next week, but I would like to keep in mind that to a certain degree, art is subjective.

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Two Women by the Shore

Henri Edmond Cross 1856-1910, Two Women by the Shore, Mediterranean 1896 Oil on Canvas

Perhaps missing the ocean drew me to Two Women by the Shore, by French artist Henri Edmond Cross. The painting is set on what looks like a cliff, with a bright turquoise ocean and pale purple sky as a background. There are blues and purples in the shadows, and yellows and pinks to accent the highlights, with some red, green, and orange mid tones. It is late morning or early afternoon; the colors are bright but the shadows are long. The horizon line is barely visible, and the ocean reflects the slightly purple clouds as if the sky and sea are one. The scrubby brush and deciduous trees remind me of the chaparral of California, but the shockingly saturated colors and lack of wind or fog in the painting suggest a more equatorial zone. Looking closer, I try and figure out what’s going on to draw me into the painting. 

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In "The Live Creature," Dewey says that we cannot understand something without first understanding how it connects to and interacts with the world around it. Despite this, we are still able to enjoy it in one way or another. He uses the example of a flower--we can appreciate its beauty but we cannot understand it until we know how it interacts with the sun, water, and soil. Will understanding deep play allow us to appreciate it on a deeper level? Does knowing one is deeply playing give a more thorough sense of satisfaction or enjoyment, or does the opposite apply? I think that there is something magical in the mystery of deep play as it occurs.

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dive deep into play

The top of the mountain is shrouded in fog, and I am all alone. My legs ache from the steep hike up, but pride swells in my chest. I’ve hiked 4.5 miles and gone up about 360 meters, mostly for the view, but despite my misty grey surroundings, I’m smiling ear to ear. The experience of walking all alone has given me the chance to really push my own boundaries, both physically and mentally. I set a challenging pace for myself, and spent the duration of the hike alone with my thoughts and the trees that surrounded me. 

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Improvement: Eastern State Penitentiary

As I walked into Eastern State Penitentiary, it was hard to imagine anyone living there. The place was in ruin, stable but very obviously crumbled and corroded. Aside from the audio tour guide’s voice in my ears, the hallways were quiet, with some rooms restored to how they would’ve looked during the prison’s prime. They were almost Church like, as intended by the building’s designer, and much more livable looking than how I imagine today’s prisons. Imagining the silence that accompanied the space, though, it was easy to see why so many of the inmates were incredibly unhappy in their time at Eastern State.

Eastern State Penitentiary was founded in 1829 by a Quaker group called the "Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons”  (General Overview). It was revolutionary for its time, a prison meant to change prisoners for the better instead of merely locking them up. Its silent, penitentiary atmosphere was coupled with impressive accommodations for its prisoners: heat, decent food, and better plumbing than the white house had at that time. They were even taught “honest work (shoemaking, weaving, and the like)” to carry with them into the outside world (General Overview). The only catch was that the prisoners had virtually no contact with anything that could distract them from their own thoughts. They ate alone, exercised alone, and had access to only one book, The Bible. They never saw any of the other prisoners, and their only company was a window on each ceiling called, “The Eye of God.”  

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Eastern State Penitentiary - Quilt essay

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. 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. Eastern state penitentiary was for the most part a failure: prisoners found ways to communicate and rebel, and often played or refused the help of their reformers. I am disappointed by the loss of the original mission statement (now they lost the part about isolation), but proud of how it affected other prisons throughout the world. 

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Mark's section: POV 5

The original design of Eastern state forced people to really look into themselves and their actions, alone in a cell with nothing to do but explore your own mind allows a person to form a new perspective on themself.

Eastern State seemed more like a place of torture than reform. Solitary confinement can quickly make a person go mad, so I understand why Eastern State had so many problems, especially after getting a short glimpse at what the prisoners experienced.

ESP is an important but also overcelebrated milestone in American history with an interesting and rich history. ESP cells are lonely but also made me realize our own dependence on technology.

I found the cell to be interesting. Due to time constraints, myself and two others sat in the cell at the same time, but we did our best to ignore each other. I meditated for the half hour, found it very relaxing. Found myself annoyed by the little sounds the others made, very annoyed by the passing tours (and, admittedly, amused then they exclaimed about ‘how creepy’ the people in the cell were).

It is a cold penitentiary consisting of 10 cells, which are both better than how I thought it would be, and also worse than my original imagination.

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. 

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