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Play in the City 2013

Anne Dalke's picture

still open for conversation!

This on-line forum will remain open...our ESem still here for us collectively.
We hope you all will post here in the years to come.

On the last day of class, Mark and Anne said,

"We think that what we have accomplished together (all of us) is important. It's important because play is the lifeblood of being an authentic intellectual and it's also profoundly healthy. We've assembled a toolbox together--a full, rich array of strategies to use when you are stuck or feeling unconnected to reading, writing, or talking in class.

We think it's important that you each have connections to the city--multiple connections. And that there are 25 other people in your class who understand their connection to the city and on whom you can rely to nurture your connection to the city. Bryn Mawr is an amazing place and one of the amazing things about it is that you can really nourish yourself, socially, emotionally, culturally and spiritually through your connections to the city and to each other.

We hope you feel connected to one another, to at least some of the ideas that we've worked on together, to the notions of play we have explored, and to the city in which we've all played--critically, deeply, and in friendship.

The two of us are happy to be resources to you during your time here--and after. If you're curious about something (something related to Bryn Mawr, to intellectual life, or to the city or your well-being), please be in touch with us.

Anne Dalke's picture

Images of Our Final Day of Work-and-Play

Phoenix's picture

(presumably) Al Capone's cell in ESP

Mindy Lu's picture

Self Evaluation

Three months ago, with excitement and a little bit worry, I, an international student from China, came to the United States for the first time. Everything around was new for me, especially, the language environment. At the beginning, when I had to speak English all the time during my daily life, I felt awkward and tired. Even worse, I faced difficulties of various sorts in writing— sometimes, I faced culture collisions; sometimes, I misunderstand the meaning of words; sometimes, I clearly knew what I want to express, but when I started to type, I was trapped and even had no idea about how to build up my words into a shapely essay. Luckily, I joined Esem "Play in the City"this semester. Although it was not easy for me to read so many reading materials and write my essays every week, I, indeed, have to thank for those experiences because I learnt many precious skills of writing from them.

During this semester, we had at least seven trips to Philadelphia, which were all interesting and exciting. We explore the meaning of new definition we learnt in the readings in class; we visited museums; we watched plays; we took photos; and we absorbed knowledge and thinking a lot when we played and enjoyed ourselves.

Unconsciously, three months have passed. These days, I practiced reading and writing to developed my skills of using my second language, which is like that I piled up my experiences as bricks to build up a skyscraper—more bricks I built, higher I reach, and further I overlook. Thus, I will never stop my steps to collect the “bricks”, which build up my second language and bring me to a wider horizon of my new life.


Mindy Lu's picture

Rewrite Deep Play

 Rewrite Deep Play

I am in a daze, sitting in front of my laptop, my eyes staring at the photo of my little cousin Sam on the screen, thinking about that I would never notice that I did a kind of “ deep play” with him before without taking this course and reading the article by Ackerman.

Play is an activity enjoyed for its own sake, while deep play is the ecstatic form of play, which is a fascinating hallmark of being human. (Ackerman) With my own experience, I state the definition of deep play as a kind of play that not only bring fun, but also express something deep inside the players. During most of my playtime, I just have fun—search the Internet, play games or do some sports without think deeply and express anything from my heart. However, when I played hide-and-seek, the common game which seems may not be consider as a deep play, I thought much more than the game itself and did a deep play.

“Five, four, three, two, one …… I am coming!”

I still remember that it was my first time to play hide-and –seek with Sam, a five-years-old boy. I was a seeker and he was a hider. Actually, it was extremely easy for me to find him—he was hidden under the quilt and his back was like a little hill on the bed. Thus, I walked to the bed directly and opened the quilt quickly without any hesitation. I felt proud to be “clever” to find him while he looked a little bit embarrassed and upset. Looking at his bright eyes with depressiveness, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake—I should not play this game so seriously.

I though of those days my parents played hide-and-seek with me when I was 5 years old, and that was a kind of “deep play”I even left my slippers on the floor in front of the clothespress in which I hided. However, my parents never exposed me directly like I did to my cousin. Instead, they acted like that my technique of hiding was wise enough to avoid their carefully searching. More often than not, they talked to each other loudly to make sure that I could hear clearly: “Where is she? I have no idea at all!”,“She is quite a talent hider!”. Every time I heard such words, I could not control myself and laughed out loud. Even though, my parents would never “find” me until I jumped out by myself.

Stopped recalling my memory of childhood, I began to understand that the game I played was not as simple as it looked like. Different way to play could lead to different result and if I did not care about to be a winner, the result would be better, such as I could make my cousin happy and set up his confidence. Therefore, I decided to change my way to play this game. I went to him and persuaded him to play one more time by giving him a lollipop, and he agreed reluctantly. This time, he hided behind the curtain and, as usual, I saw his feet at once. Nevertheless, I did not point it out immediately, but behaved like my parents did before.

“Where is him? I cannot find him! That is impossible!” I shout aloud.

Faintly, I heard his laughter but ignored.

“How smart he is! I think I have to give up…” I kept acting and felt much more proud than the last time, and that was my first time to felt happier to be a loser than when I was I winner.

“Aha! I am here!” Finally, Sam jumped out of the curtain. He looked so excided and cheerful, just like I had been when my parents played with me before.

This experience of  “deep play” impacts me a lot. As the definition I stated in the first paragraph that deep play should be able to express something deeply inside the players, I not only had fun but also expressed my love to my cousin inside my heart when I played with him.


                           Work Sites

Ackerman, Diane, Chapter One. Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999.

tflurry's picture

Word Mosaic

Sorry! Accidentally deleted this while finishing up!

tflurry's picture

NW Revisited

Although at first glance the chapter naming system in NW, by Zadie Smith, seems almost arbitrary, there is an underlying intent behind the chapter-nomenclature. This paper intends to examine how the Natalie and Leah’s reactions towards their pasts are revealed through the chapter titles within their sections of the book: Visitation and Host.


The first section, Visitation, focuses on Leah, who desires very much to appear ordinary, and would like nothing so much as to stay still, living in a certain point in time. She does not necessarily desire objectivity; she does not necessarily even consider the past that much better than the present, although it is clear that in many ways she does. She wants to stay in a fixed point in time, because she more or less likes her life, and she does not want it to change. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines visitation as “an official or formal visit, in particular 1. (in church use) an official visit of inspection. 2. The appearance of a divine or supernatural being. 3. A gathering with the family of a deceased person before the funeral.” The title of this section is fitting, then: Leah is constantly examining and re-examining her past, visiting it, and sometimes visited by it, as if it could offer some form of divine protection or favor. In doing so, she has in many ways refused to go on living, preferring to try and stay stationary in time. Of the 27 chapters within the section, they are organized in the very typical, traditional Arabic number system, with only four exceptions; there are four separate occasions where the numbering system skips a chapter; instead of the chapters lining up 17 – 18 – 19, they instead read 17 – 37 – 18. These chapters 37 correspond with chapters wherein Leah attempts to forestall the future.


The first chapter 37 is between chapters 11 and 12, and is only a page long: therein Leah remembers a former true love telling her that humans are naturally drawn to the number 37, and that it will keep showing up throughout life. In the chapter, the scene shifts to contemporary Leah, frozen with indecision or fear, as she considers approaching the people squatting in Number 37 Ridley Avenue. Leah can not convince herself to confront these new intruders, to admit that squatters had moved in, that something had changed; much safer, much simpler, to go on as if it had never been, and to absorb her self with the past. If she approaches these intruders, then she will be forced to admit that they did not used to be there. If she approaches the intruders, she will force them to respond, and they might not respond well; that is another reason she hesitates, out of fear of that response and what it might do, what it might change. “What would she do with 37 lives!”. (46) If she had assurance that things would not change if she confronted the men, this comment implies that she might approach them. This sort of promise is not actually uncommon for Leah, either: throughout the book, she finds herself thinking about how she would act if only something or another were different. Were something to change, however, she would not actually act differently than she did before the change: this is part of Leah’s unwillingness to inspire change, her desire to live in the past.


The next chapter 37 occurs between chapters 15 and 16, wherein Leah, unable to find any ‘discrete home remedy’, finds herself at a suspect clinic as she fondly remembers the before and the after of her first abortion. Again, the chapter 37 is as she attempts to forestall the future; Leah reasons that if she does not have a child, then it will always be Leah-and-Michel, just the two of them. “She doesn’t want to ‘go forward.’ For Leah, that way is not forward. She wants just him and her forever.” (103) Even before Olive’s death, she does not come into the conversation when Leah imagines her future joyful static life with Michael. That is her idea of paradise: the two of them, enjoying each other, with no one else to intrude or disrupt their happiness.


The third 37 is a mere page, a rant spoken by the Black Madonna, chastising her for her attempts to escape and avoid the past. The irony of this rant is that Leah has been actively seeking out the past, a stable place in time, for the entirety of the book up to this point; the diatribe presents it as if the same is true of the Black Madonna, but the her ‘stable place in time’ is centuries ago. This Black Madonna embodies the timelessness quality that Leah desires for herself, the feeling of a world stood still. Again, chapter 37 is where Leah finds herself drawn into the past and anchored there.


The last chapter 37, also the last chapter in Visitation, is notable for several reasons. To begin with, all the other chapter headings of the chapter 37s in this book were formatted differently. While most chapter headings were formatted bold with a period following, the chapter 37s were formatted italicized and free-floating, with the exception of this last chapter 37. In this last chapter, the heading is formatted to match the other numbered chapters thus far; this effectively foreshadows that while all the previous chapter 37s discussed Leah’s obsession with events prior to the book, the last chapter 37 covers her preoccupation with the events that occurred within the book; specifically, with Shar. This is reflected by chapter title’s formatting; while the chapter number is 37, indicating Leah’s chokehold on past events, the formatting is in the same format as the rest of the story’s chapters, as thus the other contemporary events, are.


By contrast, consider Keisha and Natalie’s section, Host. Host is the third section in the book: its “chapters” are of varying length, numbered and labeled in chronological order with a brief title to describe the contents or importance of the story covered in the chapters. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines host as “1. A person who receives or entertains other people as guests. 2. An animal or plant on which a parasite or commensal organism lives”. This is fitting for Natalie’s section. On the one hand, she ‘hosts’ the past through the various stories in her chapters, the stories flashing by like faces of people in a party, Natalie giving them just enough attention to greet them as they come in the door. On the other hand, Natalie is preyed on by her past, and has a mutually productive relationship with Keisha, Natalie’s other personality: she is, in effect, both types of host. Natalie’s chapters are in the expected order, with one exception: there is no chapter 37. Considering that most of the chapters in Host are connected to each other at least tangentially, and that chapter 36 was about Keisha not wanting to date a certain boy, and 38 was titled “On the other hand”, with merely the line “Beggars can’t be choosers”, this would suggest that perhaps the missing chapter 37 told the story of how Keisha and Rodney started dating. More to the point, Natalie, who tries so hard to ignore the past and forget where her roots come from, has thus lost chapter 37 as well. The closest thing to a chapter 37 is chapter 24, “The number 37”. This is fitting, for within this chapter Natalie remembers when Leah first took a train to Camden Lock Lot and the friends from Caldwell, who seem to be part of the reason Leah and Natalie grew to have such different personalities, and grew apart. Clearly, Natalie’s chapters, sometimes titled with a sentence, sometimes with a single word or a line of URL, focus on tales and memories. They follow one train of thought into another, never staying on one story for long. This mutability is similarly reflective of her desire to forget the past; she shows these traits within her stories, but also in how easily and quickly she throws away a story idea before moving onto the next one. 37 is important in Visitation due to its presence, but its importance in Host is due to its absence.


Only one idea repeats within the chapter titles: chapters 73 and 96 were both titled “The sole author”, and both reflect on some aspect Natalie as a person who made herself who she is through conscious decisions. This further emphasizes the desire to forget her past, because she deliberately seeks to separate herself from it, mold her self apart from it. Contrast this to Leah, who heard the line “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me” (3) almost before readers met her. Leah was drawn to that line, even tried to write it out to keep: all her pencil could write out was “I am the sole author”, refusing to adequately mark the magazine page with more. Leah was drawn to this aspect of the past, just as Natalie was repelled by it.


Although the chapter titles within Smith’s NW appear random at first, it quickly becomes clear that there is a code at work. In Visitation, all the chapter titles are numbers, and a chapter is only titled “37” when Leah clings to the past; in Host, there is no chapter number 37 at all, and the title “The sole author” is when Natalie steers her ship away from the past. In Visitation, Leah hears the quote “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me”, while in Host, “The number 37” is the train that introduced Leah to the people who would help her drift away from Natalie. On close examination, it seems obvious that the chapter titles in Zadie Smith’s NW help declare the attitude the character in question has towards their past.




Works Cited:

Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.

The New Oxford American Dictionary

tflurry's picture


When I first walked into Play in the City, I was a decent high school-level essay writer. Over the course of the semester, I learned more. I picked up more tools, things like ‘lenses’ and ‘the believing game’ for my writing toolbox, and these are tools that I expect to be very useful over the years. I discovered new terms and theories with which to interact with the world around me, different types of play and luck, that may or may not affect my writing in the future, but gives me different ways to think about my experiences: I consider that even more valuable to come away from a class with. In the end, I believe that I have improved in a few ways in my writing over the semester: I think about my essays differently, and in doing so I write them differently: I think about things like lens and how best to frame the point I want to make, what best proves my point or what point best discusses what I want to examine. I recognize, however, that I still have a lot to learn: my essays are not always as focused as they would ideally be, and they often have an overabundance of one punctuation mark or another. I thank this course further for that, because it not only taught me, but gave me an idea where to go next.


I enjoyed participating in class: the readings, while sometimes difficult, were usually interesting, even fascinating: sometimes this because of the idea of what if I took their advice and followed it through in the world, like what happened with Flannigan's "Critical Play". Sometimes it was because the essay sparked a moment of 'wait a moment, you mean I'm not the only one who does that?', as with Sontag's "Against Interpretation". The conversations were interesting, too: I usually learned something new, whether about a person, a topic, an idea. It was always exciting to see what someone would say next, whether or not I agreed with them, whether or not they or I were the only person in the room who disagreed with the class.


I think that overall, in the classroom I assumed the role of the prod, and often the devil's advocate: I often nudged people, poking at their ideas from one direct or another until they could fend me off, and leaving them with a stronger idea for it. When I was not asking questions about other people's ideas, I often asked them about my own. One of the reasons I love playing devil's advocate is that you can not play the role if you are unwilling or unable to poke holes in your own beliefs. I think of it almost as the cynic's version of the believing game: you may or may not believe for what you are arguing at the beginning, but if you play your cards right, everyone, including yourself, will be convinced by the end. Outside the classroom, I tended to serve as one of three things: I was the tag along, the conversation partner, or the crew director. On one or two occasions, I would up going on a trip with two classmates who were good friends with each other. This left me third wheeling, unable to join the conversations and not asked to do so. Sometimes I was with a bunch of friends or acquaintances that, although perfectly nice, could not be bothered to plan ahead. On these occasions I served as crew director, making sure everyone was where they needed to be when they needed to be there. Finally, my favorite situation was when I was traveling with people who I knew, liked, and who could get where they needed to without direction. In those situations, I was a conversation partner, and it was lovely. I think, however, that I learned from all of these roles: these are useful life skills, and the tips and tricks I learned this year will be useful next time I need to arrange a group of people, or to not step in and take over.


I do not know who I learned the most from: that was the lovely thing about this class, we all learned from each other simultaneously. Nor, for that matter, do i know who I was most helpful to: there were some students I barely interacted with, and some I developed good friendships with, but there was no single person I recognized spending a lot of time helping, or who spent very long helping me. That said, I found the class work, the class discussions, very helpful: I loved the point of view exercise after the trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary, because it was very interesting to see everyone's opinions so clearly written. I liked the concept behind the small groups of classmates responding to our writing as well, although I did not find those as helpful as I would like. I learned a lot during the class discussions, and I think that those helped me the most.


Overall, I am very glad that I took this course, and pleased that I can walk away from this new semester with all of this in my new toolbox.

nightowl's picture

Essay Rewrite #4

When I went to Zagar’s Magic Gardens, which is a concentrated space of his mosaics in one building, I was experiencing a form of escapism. The various details in the piece where too much too take in. The mosaic was made up of tiles, glass, found items, and homemade molds. A common theme was to have paint over the tiles, which outlined human forms and quotes about the city. The painted quotes often had misspelled words in them for example; “Forms are converes of meaning” In this quote “converes” might be converse, conveyers, or another word. Having this misspelling forces the quote to be open-ended and untranslatable.

I interpret the gardens as a space that welcomes you to be aware of your surroundings, but not necessarily to interpret or understand them. This is also true for natural gardens. Unlike other forms of art, people are often more willing to take form over interpretation when visiting a garden. This is facilitated by a garden being so large and detailed that it is nearly impossible to take in everything.

Looking at form is made easier in a garden because of its detachment from humans, which relieves the pressure for it to be useful or meaningful. Gardeners collect plants, arrange them in a space, and then let them grow and take root. Zagar is similar to a gardener in that he collects and organizes trash and then presents it in a space. The Magic Gardens are like a garden made of human trash, rooted in a city space.

Gardens provide a form you cannot take in completely, you are not encouraged to analyze it deeply, you are supposed to let it make you feel. Zagar’s Magic Gardens facilitate a space where people can look at the “the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of some…images,” in the way that Sontag describes in Against Interpretation. In this essay Sontag reflects on interpretation and it’s ability to hinder us from simply looking at art for the sake of looking, “Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now....ours is a culture based on...a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience.” Sontag does not want us to look at art with a critical lens, but to rather look at it, see it, and let it affect us. I think in order to thoughtfully look at something and encounter it as a live creature; we must believe that there is something there to see.

Seeing is believing in something. Believing in art is a less biased and more naïve then a distinct point of view. However, it is still a side of compliance towards artwork. When I went to visit the Magic Gardens I believed in it because I looked and was entranced by the detail and encompassing beauty. I had positive emotions towards it because of I was witnessing. This pollutes Sontag’s idea to simply look at art without interpretation.

In cases when we doubt art Sontag thinks that this is the most important instance to believe in art, “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable (and) comfortable” Sontag’s subliminal use of believing and doubting in her essay shows how she is built on the vocabulary we have learned this semester, as much as she is asking us to throw it out. In order to look at and let artwork affect you, you need to believe and doubt.


Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1966: 4-14.

mmanzone's picture

How We Learn

How We Learn

In my elementary school, we had a day devoted to diagnostic testing.  They had tests to determine what level of different classes we should be in.  Tests that could show whether we were left-brained or right-brained.  And they had tests that would determine what type of learner we are.  I was determined to be a visual-kinesthetic learner with a strong preference toward logic and mathematics; I needed to be shown something and to do something with my hands and could solve problems more easily than many of my classmates.

This classification has lasted my entire life.  I still learn best when I can see or touch what it is I am learning about and numbers and science still make much more sense to me than symbols and metaphors.  This does not mean that I cannot learn through sounds or that I cannot understand the deeper meanings of certain things, it just means that I must work harder at it.  

Different assignments in Play in the City allowed me to see these differences and recognize why some did not work for me.  

When we were reading NW I struggled to believe what Zadie Smith said.  I took all of her words at the dictionary definition because I never knew what was meant to have a deeper meaning and what was not.  I wrote a paper on how Smith was wrong.

“Though seemingly realistic, Zadie Smith’s NW is loaded with inaccuracies.”

“In addition to the flawed character depictions, Smith also included many inaccuracies with geographical concepts.”

I could not accept her descriptions as anything but the settings of a story she wanted to tell.  Her Willesden does not match the Willesden in the data and, in my head, she was wrong because of it.  It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it would not work.  I was frustrated because I could not connect to a place where I want to live, England.

When we started to discuss deep play I finally saw what the problem was.  Every time I classified something as “deep play” I was interacting with some thing.  It was never an idea or an activity, it was objects.  The moment in the Titanic exhibit when “the young girl’s shoes before me were suddenly filled and a young man from third class was standing next to me.  I could feel all of these people with me even though I was completely alone,” I was interacting with the artifacts from a disaster.  Or when I was in the Barnes Foundation and “I [saw] the street in France where this hung.  High above the street over the door to the locksmith’s shop, alerting people to its presence.  It goes unnoticed,”  I was connecting to a giant key.  They were objects right in front of me.  I could look at them from all angles and read the descriptions. 

I wondered when I was looking at the locksmith sign “Why do I only have these feelings with artifacts?” but I now realize that it is because of the way I think and learn.  Objects make sense to me because, like numbers, they are constant.  The young girl’s shoes have looked as they do now for more than one hundred years and the sign for a locksmith has looked more or less the same since it was created in the 1800s.  But Willesden, or depictions thereof, changes.  I can not get a good idea of what the area is like because it is constantly changing and I need stasis.

Our first trip into the city, to experience “The Quiet Volume”, was another moment when I could tell that I was missing something.  “The Quiet Volume” was interesting but it did not make me think about the world around me that differently.  One of our last trips, to Eastern State Penitentiary, affected me much more.  Both experiences involved listening to a person speaking directly into my ears, something that, as a visual-kinesthetic learner, is not particularly useful, and both involved observing my surroundings.  So why was walking through Eastern State was a much more moving experience for me?  


Yes, during “The Quiet Volume” I had to touch the books and the table and turn pages, but at Eastern State, all of the touches were deeper.  I touched a wall where a guard once leaned.  I sat on the floor of a cell where a prisoner once paced.  I was walking in history, touching it and feeling it, as opposed to sitting in a library with someone whispering in my ear.  

The Titanic exhibit, the key and Eastern State, though very different, each provided me with something tangible.  They were all things.  Physical objects that take up space and can be seen from different vantage points.  They are unchanging and touchable.  I can interact with them.

It is not that I cannot understand that Smith’s novel presents one person’s view of Willesden or that “The Quiet Volume” makes people notice sounds around them.  It is just that I do not think that way.  I understand things through sight and feeling, numbers and logic not sound or symbols.  I need the experiences and sights not the stories and pictures.

lksmith's picture

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.

            In general, the idea that an object’s presentation can change the way a person looks at that object is not a new or revolutionary idea. It is the reason why people spend so long rearranging the objects in their house until everything pleases their eye. Each of the things that they have in their home looks different in each of the possible place that they could place it, so they keep moving things around to find the places that make every object look the best that it can. This concept can also be seen through the use of seasonal decorations. In December when it starts to really get cold, people fill their homes with decorations to make their homes feel warmer. This is particularly true with Christmas decorations because when you add the tree and all the garlands and lights to a home it fills the extra space in a room with objects that area associated with feelings of warmth and protection from the winter weather. This makes the home itself seem more pleasant to all who enter. In both of these cases people change the way their house and the things inside of it are perceived by the inhabitants and their guests.

            Although this seems to make perfect sense in the context of organizing and decorating, when it comes to art this idea has been severely neglected. In general when artwork is displayed anywhere it is done in a very scientific and sterilized way, especially when it comes to two-dimensional art. When it can be hung up on a wall, generally it ends up there alone, with nothing like it within a few feet in any direction. The walls are generally white and boring, they are meant to isolate that single piece of artwork in its spot on the wall so that nothing gets in the way of the viewer seeing that piece and nothing else. Albert Barnes saw this traditional format for displaying art and decided that it was not a very good way to look at art. As he put together his vast collection of art, he intentionally arranged it to go against that formula. He filled his house with art from some of the most famous painters and artists of all time in arrangements that displayed the art in ways that the works had never been seen before. He arranged the art to highlight certain aspect of each piece and connect them together with the pieces around them and the other features of the room (furniture, wall decorations). In a way he made his own artwork out of the works of others. He then created the Barnes Foundation to teach people about his way of viewing art and specifically his private collection.

            In his will Barnes clearly stated that his art was never to me moved from the exact location in which he left it, never to be changed. He wanted to preserve his unique way of viewing the art because he believed it to be the only true way to view art. When Barnes died unexpectedly, a whole array of different people tried to sneak past the rules outlined in the will, most were unsuccessful. However, in the end the Barnes Foundation was moved in its entirety from its home in Merion, Pennsylvania to a new location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite the obvious deviation from Barnes’ will, there was a significant effort made to keep the general presentation of the artwork the same. However, these efforts were not enough to maintain exactly what Barnes had created. What the movers didn’t consider is the fact that a part of the presentation of the art is the outside location of the building. Even though the viewer might not be thinking about the fact that they are in Merion or the canter of Philadelphia, it has an affect on their mindset when they enter the foundation that can change their whole experience.

            One aspect of the Barnes Foundation that did not change with the move was the arrangement of the paintings themselves and the appearance of the interior of the rooms. The appreciation and understanding of the collection is entirely hinged on this arrangement, there is no other way to arrange the art and produce the same effect that Barnes created. The flow from one piece to the next and the interconnectivity between all of the pieces on each wall and all of the wall together defined the meaning of each painting by the context provided. In any other setting a given painting in the foundation could not bee seen in the same way.

            Another way in which people today end up viewing art is through representations of art. Since before the opening of the Barnes there have been advertisements all over Philadelphia about the Barnes that show a representation of one of the paintings in the museum. Besides the fact that this is clearly not the way in which Barnes had intended for the art to be viewed, it is also not the same as looking at the real painting. When you look at the representation you cannot see the brush strokes and the texture of the painting or have the personal experience with the art that is gained when viewing the original.  

            There are an infinite number of ways to view anything in this world and beyond it. In art, this idea usually only extended to the superficial level of the direct relationship between the specific piece and the person viewing it. Little attention is paid to the relationship between the piece and its environment or the relationship between the environment and the viewer, even though these relationships are essential to the way in which people appreciate art to its fullest. Perhaps Barnes was right in his attempt to perfect the viewing experience of art in that there are ways to view art that truly enhances not only the experience of viewing the art but the art itself. 

Taylor Milne's picture

Revisiting the Magic Gardens

            When thinking of critical and deep play, I always come back to the mosaics created by Isaiah Zagar, and the playfully creative impact they have had on the world. They redefined mosaics, and have fabricated one of the most creative outlets of street art. All along South Street his mosaics glimmer in the sunlight, illuminating the numerous fragmented mirrors, reflecting light all around. Words written forwards, sideways, backwards, with many of them relaying powerful messages. The art that Zagar has dedicated his life to is as playful to the onlooker as it is to the creator.

            Although I cannot make assumptions on Zagar’s experiences in creating the mosaics, I would hope that through the years of his creations he has had moments of deep play. Explained by Diane Ackerman, “In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time's continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world's ordinary miracles.” When looking at some of the mosaics that Zagar has created, his passion and playfulness is unmistakable, and allows the viewer to have the same playful and deep experience when viewing his life’s work.

            The nature of a mosaic is chaotic and fragmented, but somehow they all work together to create a piece of art that evokes emotions that are original to each and every viewer. Mosaics are abstract in that they are open to every person to create their own interpretations, and I love that everyone who was in the Gardens with me was each having a unique and original experience, although we all occupied the same space. This is the magic of the Gardens; they allow each person to play individually within the playground of art and broken pieces.

            Although the Magic Gardens was only the second trip into Philadelphia, this visit to the city was to the most impactful and playful to me, and was my initial look into the world of critical and deep play. I remember walking through the gardens, overwhelmed by the grand quantity of fragmented trash, ceramics, mirrors, and colors that interacted with one another to create a chaotic whole. The art created by Zagar is boundless and distinct from any form of traditional art in that it can be contained to one singular piece of broken ceramic, and can likewise expand to fill a 360-degree space. Each mosaic able to tell its own story, and induce different emotions in its observers, creating a playground from the youngest child to the oldest intellectual.

            In looking at the Magic Gardens as a result of critical play we can see the inherent non-linearity that Mary Flanagan describes in “Critical Play,” Zagar creates no set patterns or rules to his art, but rather lets it develop as he works, letting it create itself, allowing for change. The playfulness that is present in his work is an effect of his casual creations that are not meant for critical interpretation. Zagar is “making for making’s sake,” as Flanagan describes critical play artists, and this allows the viewers to experience the mosaics with the same playfulness in which they were created.

            I would not go as far to define my experiences viewing Isaiah Zagar’s work as “deeply playful,” but I could see how a deeply playful experience could be derived from his work. It encourages its viewers to think, but not criticize. We accept the art for what it is, and move on to thinking about the emotions this art makes us feel, and the messages it is telling us, whether through words or through images that Zagar has created. This door to an endless variety of thought leads me to believe that at least one person has had a deeply playful experience in the gardens, even if they do not realize it.

            The power of Zagar’s work is in its playfulness. Although the art is created through a unique skill, I would not categorize it as art that contains the same meticulous details of a realist painting. This is what makes it special though– it is free and open to more creation. The beauty of his work is that it is unbounded and appears in the oddest of places, always bringing a smile to my face when I see them pop up around a street corner. This playfulness is what makes Zagar’s mosaics special. As I travelled within Philadelphia for the remainder of the trips I always found myself playing in new and unique ways, but whenever I look back, I always regard my trip to the Magic Gardens as the most special. It made me think and taught me how to play meaningfully, impacting me in such a way that I hope to execute the same powerful playfulness in my life.

Cathy Zhou's picture

Culinary Spirit

Culinary Spirit

There was a discovery by British scientists that taste and smell would last longer than visual memories. So today instead of taking everyone to tourist attractions and visit visually, I would like to use the “taste” to approach my city---Chengdu.

I’ve been out of the city for 4 months, and when I closed my eyes, I could still reencounter the taste of the restaurant in front our house. The taste in Chengdu might be the most unforgettable thing in the city.

It is a spicy city, everyone loves spice here, and it somewhat influences the attitude of the residents. Food takes a great proportion in the residents’ life, especially “malatang”. There is at least one malatang place in every block (not exaggerating, there are three in front of my home), and it’s the most representing thing that the city cannot live off.

The idea of malatang actually came out from the boat trackers---their major work is to load goods on ships and travel along the river to deliver. That was usually a whole day travel, so they took the water of the river in a pot, boil with spices and put what they have in there. Then this became popular in the whole district, and people put all kinds of things in it: goose intestine, pig kidney, heart… Those might sound strange for people from other countries or even other province in China, but those are the cheapest ingredients and can create the same delicacy.

There’s a saying in Chengdu called: the best food is hidden in the corner. If you take a walk on a small street of Chengdu during dinner hours, you would probably see people lining up for malatang in front of a small booth. My family used to drive for an hour to get to a famous street corner with only a few chairs to try the famous malatang. And in every district, there would be some places crowded with all kinds of people. The price is cheap (mainly 0.5 RMB per stick) ---partly because of its lower class background, and the low cost of cooking. But all kinds of people come for it: there are expensive cars parking in front of small booths, there are bicycles in the front line, students sitting down for a chat time and also people randomly walk there for takeout. There’s no segregation for food in here, the residents here don’t care that much about the scale or furniture of restaurants, as long as they taste good.

Spices in Chengdu melted the boundary of different classes successfully, because even with different education background and economical well-beings, everyone still shares the same “food culture” living there. It might be for the lower-class brought up the trend of the city that the very cheap street food could bring more pleasure than sitting in fancy restaurants.

However, not many cities are willing to be like Chengdu, even hard to admitted, boundaries are forming the city to advance. The less wealthy would work harder to make them better-off, and the already wealthy people would spend money on educational investment of their children to keep the wealth. And they did all this to pursue a better life status: eat in a better restaurant, live in a better house, and get to a better neighborhood (that’s where American Dream comes from). In Philadelphia, Utah, or any other places I’ve been, I can feel the clear boundaries in the city, the segregation of races made them live in different places and have different restaurants opened in their own closed circle.

But in Chengdu, economical status does not matter that much, everyone can afford to have the city’s taste and feel the recognizable spice for a moment in their mouths. I always believed this city is different, not for the long history or nice weather, but the attitude towards life. The enthusiasm for food broke the invisible walls of rich and poor, old and young, while everyone sits in the same crowded booth with a satisfied smile.

The culinary spirit, the enthusiasm put into food made Chengdu itself a malatang: It has all kinds of different food in it, but the temperature melted the difference, and made it a delicious meal.









AnotherAbby's picture

That's All, Folks.

This is a little bittersweet, honestly. I know I probably don’t seem like the type who would get emotional about things, and typically, I’m not, but I’m sad that this is the last paper I get to write for this class. I want to take a breath, even though I just started. It’s a strange feeling. We’re not coming back on Tuesday this time so we can all do our best to figure out what the twenty pages of reading we did actually meant.  How am I supposed to explain my issues with Deep Play to my mother? She’s not going to understand. I need fourteen other people to argue with me about it.

I definitely think I’m a different person from the one that started this class. I don’t honestly know if I’m AnotherAbby anymore—yes, when we started class, I thought that was clever and hilarious. There were even more Abbys around me than I was used to, and I already used the name as a gmail account, so it seemed to fit. But, I feel like I’m more than that now. This class sort of bionic (wo)man’d me. We can rebuild her. We have the technology. Coming out of the first writing conference, I was shaken. I’d never gone through something like that before, where someone I respected pointed out to me that yes, I was an okay writer, but I wasn’t going far enough with it. My concepts weren’t great. I hit a good idea near the end of the essay, but I hadn’t gone anywhere with it. And, the scariest part to me was that it wasn’t something I’d half-assed and knew was going to come with criticism. No, I’d actually tried to write that paper. I knew it wasn’t my best work, but it wasn’t until the writing conference that I knew just what I would need to do to succeed: Start over.

So I took the technology of Serendip and I rebuilt myself.

I don’t mean that in metaphysical kind of way. I mean that I had to entirely rethink how I went about my writing process. At first, it was alien to me. I can’t use the format I learned in high school to write papers, with five paragraphs of assertion/evidence/commentary, but I also can’t just talk about my day? Then what’s left?

That was what I tried to work with. What was left. And, from there, I started writing the way I thought was right for the class. That process was messy, and took a lot of trial and error, and I’m still not entirely sure that I’ve worked out how to write the way I think I should, but I think I’m getting there.

The discussion was probably my favorite part of class. I honestly just like hearing people talk, and this was a perfect platform for that, because no one was talking for the sake of hearing their own voice. When we spoke, we had to back whatever we were saying up with our reasoning, whether it be an opinion we hold thanks to a unique experience or an idea that grew out of one of the readings. Personally, I liked when my opinion changed over the course of a class. I guess I was playing the believing game before I even knew what it was, which is probably one of the best concepts I’ll be taking away from this class. I may be a cynic, but in spite of an maybe even because of that, I find that trying to believe wholeheartedly in ideas that are not my own is the best method I can use to see where someone else is coming from.  

With that tool at my disposal, I’m not sure where the edges of my learning are now. If I can convince myself that anything someone tells me is right and try to see the world as it would be with that “anything” as one of its components, then I don’t think my learning has edges. I can keep going. If I can see a new world for each and every idea I’m told. I can synthesize what that means, and if I like that world and that idea, I can try to make it happen.

Although, I definitely still have learning edges in subjects outside of what we’ve covered. I know where my edges lie in calculus. That’s kind of the point of calculus.

I’m glad I was placed in this ESem. I know the others couldn’t have given me the same experience, and, as corny as this sounds, I feel like this class was where I needed to be. It helped my writing skills, my discussion skills, taught me reading strategies, and introduced me to Bryn Mawr. It really grew me from AnotherAbby into Abby. And I don’t care if they need to ask me which one I am.

tomahawk's picture

Ruminations on the Class

Well, I’m sure Anne has read a lot of this before. But, I’ll write it out anyway. I love creative writing. It is my passion. Yet, I have never been able to merge analytical writing and creative writing. This class showed me that that is possible. It didn’t teach me that I should quote Sontag and write fiction at the same time. Instead, “Play in the City” showed me that I can be as free in my Creative Writing as I am in my analytical writing.

Or, to use the language of the class, “Play in the City” showed me that there’s no harm playing in my writing, that the times in which I write the best and enjoy my writing the most are when I take risks. Moreover, these risks often pay off. Deep play and critical play aren’t hard to find while I’m writing. Critical play comes far more easily to me than deep play when I am writing because in the past I have felt constrained by structure. But, now as I’m writing this I realize that there is a physical structure to writing. This is unavoidable. The structure I feared was just a mental roadblock. Deep play allows me to go past this roadblock. By the time I’m deep playing, there is no concern over whether I write the word “Penis” or “Headband.” I am only hoping that I’m going somewhere with my writing.

I think a third great thing that this course gave me is the decision to write essays about questions that I don’t have the answer to. This is terrifying. Yet, I think I have often written my worst papers when I have just asserted my opinion again and again and used quotations to support it. This sort of writing doesn’t go anywhere. I mean, what does writing do for an argument that has already solidified in my head? Not much. But, more recently, when I’ve thought about interconnectedness and the Barnes’, I feel quite fearless. This may seem like an exaggeration, but let me assure you. For anyone (including me), it is extremely hard to just write. No reservations. No worrying about what Anne will say or what my classmates will say or (oh my!) what my future employer’s might say. And, this fear hinders my writing. After I take away the intimidation and the roadblocks, I just go. And it feels like joy. Really, I feel quite joyous writing this right now. Some might accredit that to Winter Break and Christmas Spirit. But, I believe that it is thanks to this course. 

Early in the course, I did not feel as if the course suited me because I was a sophomore. But, I strongly believe that this course exposed me to a variety of ideas and perspective and it opened up my writing. I am very glad.

Muni's picture

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).

Zagar’s mosaics are also intentional. They are deliberate, obsessive acts of subversiveness. Because of the repeating patterns, colors, words, and images, it seems as though Zagar is pointing out certain things to his audience, pushing us to think about the words and images and why he is showing them to us.  Using materials like old glass bottles, discarded bicycle wheels, and ceramic plates, materials usually thought of as trash, Zagar redefines what art can be. Hands of all shapes and sizes are prevalent throughout the magic gardens and all of his mosaics, his hands, hands used to create. And from the walls and the ground, eyes of many colors stare in different directions, eyes looking at art from many points of view. Zagar encourages his audience to consider the way society sees art. On one of the walls in the magic gardens, “Philadelphia is the center of the art world” was spelled out with broken pieces of tile. I would usually think of the center of the art world as a museum somewhere in Europe full of historical paintings, but Zagar’s quote undermined that notion, which had been pushed on me by what other people consider important. Philadelphia is the center of Zagar’s art world. I agree with Flanagan that there is a “particular potency in subversive acts through participatory play” (Flanagan 173). Zagar’s work is made to be shared with the neighborhood. By being intentional about putting his art in public places, Zagar allows the public to play and participate in his art and be influenced by his questions about society. A street intervention, like Zagar’s mosaics, is intentional and bold.  

My experience in the Magic Gardens was that it was an almost separate world from the street, a street intervention. It was colorful and full of light that had been filtered through green glass bottles, but the mirrors reflected back buildings on either side, cars driving down the street, the sidewalk, and the viewer of the mosaics. I experienced Zagar’s art as a subversive act, because by bringing me into the mosaics, Zagar encouraged me to think of my own relation to the rest of the pieces. I thought about my relationship to all the material things I’ve discarded as I saw similar items incorporated into art. Perhaps this was unintended on Zagar’s part, and maybe no one else in the magic gardens had similar thoughts, but part of what makes a street intervention a street intervention is that it gives its viewers freedom to decide what they want to make of it. It also intervenes in their thinking, and gives them the chance to consider what the artist is trying to ask through the art. Because street interventions are subversive and expressions of ideas, I consider them to be artful as well.

Like Dove Bradshaw and her fire hose, Isaiah Zagar has claimed South Street as his art. He has disrupted it from the grid of the rest of the city using fragments of tile, trash, and mirrors, and he shares it with the people who allow themselves to become a part of the mosaic. 

tomahawk's picture

The Beautiful Little Rhomboid

After taking a step back, going home to California and driving to my city (San Francisco), I think the best way for me to end this class is to write an essay lauding discussion-based classes. While I drove through the city, I realized that so much of what we’ve talked about is there: Simmel, Zetkin, and many more. But more importantly, it became clear to me that it wasn’t just Simmel or Zetkin who was correct. They all were. And, they all weren’t.

Steadily, throughout the course, I’ve come to realize something about rightness and wrongness. I’ve written about wrongness before, but this is different. I still love being wrong and being told I’m wrong. But now, I think there’s something bigger than this and perhaps better.

Every day, we would come to class and disagree and agree. Some people would promote the Believing Game. Others would ask us to turn back to the Doubting Game. And slowly, I think everyone realized that it’s not black and white. In fact, few things are. We shouldn’t just scorn interpretation, but we also shouldn’t constantly search for some personal narrative, some greater meaning. 

In another class, a week ago, I went on a mini-rant about KONY 2012. I said something like, “This ‘white savior complex,’ it’s ridiculous. Completely. It’s so pretentious to believe that we as Americans can go into another country and fix problems that they’ve been dealing with for decades. They aren’t inept. They don’t lack the resources. The real problem with how our generation romanticizes quick-and-dirty revolutions is that they’re never successful. We simplify people’s complex lives.” Now, I wouldn’t dare compare questions like ‘What is Art?’ to ‘What should we do about Kony?’ But, I think some of the rhetoric I used in this argument is similar. People have been asking questions like ‘What is Art?’ and ‘What is play?’ and ‘What the heck is a city?’ for a long time. That’s because the questions aren’t simple. And, instead of looking for one bright golden truth, we should acknowledge complexity.

For example, the ongoing determinism vs. free will debate. Until I was eighteen, I was sure that I had free will. And then, I found determinism. For two years, I fought for it. Literally, I would argue with countless people over determinism. I would try to sway them with diatribes and words like ‘nature’ and ‘nurture.’ But now, I’m in the middle. You see, I’ve realized that perhaps I don’t care much for THE TRUTH. I’m sure it’s out there. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life pursuing THE TRUTH in many different ways. But, for now, I am content being on the fence about determinism and free will. I realize that what’s truly important about determinism and free will isn’t THE TRUTH, it’s what determinism and free will can give me. Determinism let’s me forgive people. It shows me that poor people don’t equal freeloaders and that there are reasons why people go into a life of crime. Yet, free will reminds me of accountability. Free will dictates that I can’t just go into the kitchen and eat all of the food in the fridge. And, when my parents get upset, I can’t turn to them and say, “Well, I don’t have free will. What else was I supposed to do?”

To turn back to discussion-based learning, this is what it does (when it’s successful). There are people sitting in a room and they talk about things. No one is trying to prove themselves or to prove that their interpretation of Keisha/Natalie is THE TRUTH. Instead, we’re all just trying to learn, to see the complexity.

Often, I let my imagination wander in class. Sometimes a giraffe stands behind Anne Dalke. Sometimes an orb bounces from window to window and lands on the desk of whoever is talking. But, my favorite is when people are speaking and the argument expands before me from 1D to 2D to 3D.

Discussion-based learning allows me to understand, not to suck in knowledge like a vacuum cleaner. I hear many points of view and I am not asked to accept or bad-mouth any of them. Instead, I leave the class with a clear picture in mind: a beautiful little rhomboid, filled with many arguments and many perspectives.

Frindle's picture

Rewrite: Oh City, My City

When I think of a city, the first thing that comes to mind is skyscrapers and well-dressed businessmen, subways and taxis, Starbucks and a distinct lack of greenery. Cupertino is certainly not a traditional city. But it is a city, an important one. What it lacks in tradition it makes up for in innovation.

Cupertino has none of the elements of a traditional city. We don’t have skyscrapers (in my opinion, an excellent decision given our proclivity for earthquakes). Most of our employers are tech companies, and many employees tend to dress towards the causal end of the business-casual spectrum. Our only public transport is the bus, but most people have their own cars and embrace the California Roll whole-heartedly (in which people don’t stop for stop signs but rather roll slowly through them). And while people do love their Starbucks, they love their Pearl Milk Tea (PMT) even more.

I come from the home of Apple, yes. But I come from much more than that. When I think of Cupertino, I think of sidewalks appearing and disappearing as you walk to school, because half the homes are still small homes from the 60s and the other half are McMansions built within the last 10 years. You can’t walk through Cupertino without hearing at least three languages that are different from your own. Cupertino is the library with fountains outside that kids run through in the summer. Cupertino is Panera filled with students. Cupertino is Mystery Spot bumper stickers. Cupertino is Asian markets and 4.0s and a really terrible football team. We’re a city full of people who were born to be San Francisco Giants fans, and no one can tell us otherwise.

Cupertino is where my friends will naturally switch accents depending on whether they’re talking to their mother or their friends. It is where you have many “aunties,” as we call our friends’ moms. It is where the most popular club on campus is the Bhangra team and where the high school includes a Bollywood number in their spring play set in Cupertino. It is where it is impossible to only have friends of one race. Cupertino is warm. It is sunny. It is closer to the beach than to the mountains, but you could still get to either easily. It is safe. It is a bubble. But it is cracking.

Cupertino is where there has been a bomb threat and a shooting in one year. Cupertino is where people have started to really pay attention to the outside world. Cupertino is where students have started taking charge of their education. Cupertino is changing. It has to. The Cupertino I know was born out of change and must continue to change if it hopes to stay alive.

Because Cupertino is so centered around technology, it works its way into every facet of our lives. People move quickly. The focus in school is on math and science. The majority of the population always has the newest Apple product. The wifi is exceptionally fast. We live close enough to San Francisco that we can visit whenever we want to. And far enough away that we never want to (except for Giants games, as stated above).

Cupertino is different. We have to be, it’s what keeps us ahead of the competition. We’re a city of intellectuals –– but if we want something to happen, we can do it ourselves. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re proud of: being able to make something out of nothing, and being able to share that with the world. Well, that and the beaches.

Cathy Zhou's picture

final trip

in the final trip of the class, I went out to take the septa with only a sweater and it began to snow in the middle of the train trip. So I changed my original plan of going to Franklin Square. I went to Market East and found a window seat of a tea place, and watched the snowy weather and people outside. There were many people went outside in snow, most of them walked into supermarkets, and some are travelers with suitcases. The shop owners all come out to clear the snow, even it would be covered by snow again later. The interesting thing I found is in the supermarket, maybe it's because it's chinatown, everything is not sold outside US. Even all the pots, chopsticks might appear in US, but everything inside the Chinatown supermarket is having a label tag in Chinese. It come up to me with Barne's segregation of his museum and outside world. It's a segregated world.

Grace Zhou's picture

re-view of mosaics

 I always regarded the mosaic as fragmented and broken. It is said that“the earliest theory of art… proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.” Thus, whenever I saw the mosaic, I just directly interpret its broken nature as a reflection of our fragmented world, where is collaged by separated people, various emotions and different thoughts. But I forget how magic its connection power is. In other world, I tend to see mosaic as a broken world, but in fact, mosaic itself is a complete art with whole image and expression.

    I think the reason is that I’m distracted by the “form” of art. Mosaic is magic because it challenges the way we used to value the art- “whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture or on the model of a statement, content still comes first.” Mosaic is a kind of special art that attracting people first by its form. Moreover, it is the form of mosaic that still causes the interpretation.

    When I first visited the magic garden, I thought it’s an artwork, which is collaged by separated parts. People tend to value the mosaic as a broken world. When standing in front of the mosaic, most of my classmates and I see the broken glasses, wheels and bottles. I found mosaic interesting because it is “subversive”. Different from the original art such as paintings hanging on the wall of a museum, it breaks the rule. Thus, mosaic is a kind of critical play-which is defined by Flanagan as “to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life.” It challenges the traditional form of art. 

    But is it all- a subversive form of art is what mosaic is special about? In other word, recall the experience in magic garden, what we have seen? The broken brick, the mirror that reflects our own image in the art and the separated letters on the wall is not mosaic. We are interpreting the deep and elusive meaning behind the form of mosaic. So what we have seen is not the art itself, but what it is made of and why the artist wants to create this kind of art. We focus on the background and the stories of the art- “wishing to replace it by something else.” What I interpreted in front of the mosaic is that Isaiah Zagar uses the mirror because he wants to encourage people to involve in this broken world, and to some extent, our own world is collaged by separated pieces. I naturally manage the mosaic by pushing my own idea on the art- after all, I become satisfied with my interpretation, acting like an intimate with mosaic who understands all about it.

    However, “what matters is the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of some images.” So mosaic is not only a broken world, more importantly, itself is a complete art. We used to value the art through interpretation-“ a conscious act of the mind which illustrate a certain code… plucking the elements from the whole work.” Thus, what we saw is the detail we especially pay attention to analyze. Without any interpretation and just see the image of mosaic, it is a man, a woman, a dog or a smiling face. The first impression people think about mosaic is that it’s separated, but why can’t we say that it’s only a whole art with portrait of people. Just like we are so get used to the idea of critiquing game-how the mosaic critically challenge the traditional art, we forget to believe the mosaic is still a whole thing, still an art.

    Maybe it is the time “to recover our senses. We must to see more, to hear more, to feel more.” So imagine a mosaic is a whole piece of art and do not focus on how it is made, what can we see? It is the sky, the running dog and talking people. Mosaic makes much more sense to us when we see from a full view. In other words, using separated pieces to create art is the method and form Zagar uses but not the mosaic itself. “ In order to understand the esthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must begin with it in the raw (Dewey)”. From my point of view, the raw of the mosaic is what really is about and what image is on it. People are so easily obsessed in analyzing and interpreting. Same for the viewer of the paintings in the museum, people tend to analyze the technique artist used when creating and how he expressed a sense of gloom in a portrait when he was not in good health or had no inspiration. But all these transitions are not the pure art itself but the interpretation from viewer.

    The mosaics maximize and substantiate the effect of people’s interpretation when viewing art. The distraction of interpretation even prevents people from appreciating what the pure image of mosaic. In other words, it is undeniable that most of the time, what we are doing when appreciating the mosaic is focusing on the broken aspect of the art. It is quite possible that when we talk about the mosaic we have seen, we don’t even know what is it about and what image is collaged. We are not viewing art but thinking. In order to analyze, people can’t see the art, just like kill the goose laying the golden eggs.

    The loss of pure appreciation and interaction with arts in returns of interpretation is not what Barnes want either. He doesn’t want people just see the interests and novelty of mosaics’ forms. The most important aspect of mosaic is the direct image and how it is related to the environment, to the wall and to other arts as a whole.

    For a real viewer of art, mosaic is complete, not fragmented. It’s a connection, not a separation. Maybe that’s why the mosaic is special- not because of the broken aspects but because it can connect pieces as a whole. Like all arts, mosaic is magic and powerful not because of the separated piece of information, but because of its interaction with and implications to the whole environment in general. 

Claire Romaine's picture


                When you live in a suburb of Cincinnati, you orient yourself by the highways.  Get on I-71 and head south into the city.  Or you could take a detour on I-275 and take the long way, avoiding the city itself as you drive into Kentucky.  However, if you head just a little bit east on 275, you’ll hit Terrace Park, while west will get you to Sharon Woods.  Anywhere North and you’re probably heading the wrong way because it’s just cornfields until you hit Columbus an hour and a half later.  Let’s stick to the simple things, though, and head South, straight into Cincinnati.


                But where does Cincinnati start? 

                Philadelphia has a border, a river on either side, and a clear, at least from this student’s point of view, delineation between the city and the surrounding areas.  Much like the maps we built in class, even detailed published maps use the Schuylkill and the Delaware as the boundaries of the map:

Of course the exact border might change depending on an individual’s approach to the city, whether car, train, bus, or even walking, but that is the nature of boundaries in cities:  they constantly shift as the neighborhoods and roads morph over time.  In Philadelphia’s case, the subway and other public transit stations probably have a great influence on how commuters see the borders of the city.  Indeed, city boundaries are not just concrete lines, but they change both over time and from person to person.  Cincinnati is a city that takes this concept way too seriously.  It is nearly impossible to find a single, solid ‘boundary’ for Cincinnati.  Sure, you can probably try to point out the Ohio River dividing Kentucky and Ohio as some sort of landmark, but even that’s not particularly effective.  The city across the river from Ohio, which is technically called Newport, is essentially an extension of Cincinnati.  There’s a walking bridge across the water and celebrations and gatherings that span both sides.  They are integrally linked socio-economically to the point that only locals would be able to tell them apart.  The Northern border of Cincinnati is even more debatable; ask a local (I’m the obvious candidate in this situation), and they might say that the Taft exit off of I-71 is the first exit that will get you into the city.  It has the major regional hospitals and a branch of the city’s university, but even that is not the heart of the city.  In order to reach what most people would call “downtown”, the hustle and bustle of tall metal buildings and a distinct lack of greenery, you have to travel at least four more miles south.  Others could argue that the city extends north of this seemingly arbitrary line to incorporate the largest, oldest, and most famous neighborhoods in the area.  Indeed, Cincinnati is not much of a robust cultural and economic center without these neighborhoods included; they contain most of the local restaurants, the small, privately-owned shops, most of the city’s schools, and a lot of the cultural centers.  The statistics on the region are most significant here when you realize that the city of Cincinnati (as in the downtown region of concrete blocks and skyscrapers) only has 300,000 residents whereas the whole metropolitan area, which includes all of those neighborhoods has 2.1 million people.  Compare Cincinnati to Philadelphia and you see the real importance of this; Philly has 1.5 million people in its downtown region and 6 million in the entire area, which means that a quarter of the population of Philadelphia lives in downtown whereas only a seventh of Cincinnati’s population does the same.  Cincinnati cannot exist as a city independent of the large neighborhoods that might be considered by some as ‘outside of city limits’.  To simplify: Cincinnati is suburbia with a mini-metropolis in the middle, while Philadelphia is a towering metropolis surrounded by suburbia.

                However, they are such different cities that a comparison to find out which one is the ‘better’ city is unfair to both of them.  It’s like trying to decide which one’s better:  A giant panda or a red panda.  They both are labelled as pandas, they both share some of the most obvious features (four legs, snouts protruding from rounded heads, and circular ears stuck on top), but they are two entirely different species.  They do not even belong to the same family and are only distantly related.  The same is true of cities because they are each their own separate and unrelated entities.  It seems so easy and simple to call Philadelphia the better city because it’s bigger, grander, more cultured or some other such nonsense, but for every massive market like Reading Terminal, Cincinnati has a Findlay market.  For every history museum snug on the parkway, Cincinnati has Union Terminal Museum Center.  For every Philly cheesesteak cart, Cincinnati has a Skyline chili.  For every Rittenhouse Square, a Fountain Square.  You want to compare size? The Public Library of Cincinnati has more books than Philadelphia’s Public library even though Philly is three times the size of Cincinnati. Size means nothing, particularly among two cities that are fundamentally different.  Cincinnatians don’t go into downtown to meet at a café and chat with friends, they go five miles North to Hyde Park and wander down to the Coffee Emporium nestled among all of the neighborhood’s free-standing houses.  Not to say that Cincinnati does not have its pitfalls:  there is no public transportation system to speak of, but that is just one more thing that makes the city what it is.  I’m no urban theorist, but without public transportation, everyone needs to independently commute, which means that everyone has cars.  That is one of the reasons the city is so spread out among its suburban neighborhoods, because everyone has to commute anyways, so they tend to live farther away in a balance between the smaller population density and longer commute.  Philadelphia on the other hand has the wonderful SEPTA, which is beloved of all car-less college students and shuttles thousands of people to work every day.

                Now I know it seems circular to make an argument against comparisons by doing one myself, but the point is that the differences (e.g. population size, restaurants, types of museums, etc.) do not make one city better than the other, but simply makes them different.  Furthermore, the identity of a city is constantly morphing, building upon itself, recreating itself using the incessantly changing people that live both within and without its limits.  The people are unique and the cities that house them are unique.  As I return home to Cincinnati tomorrow, I take back with me the knowledge of the city not just as a metal and concrete, but as a living creature capable of extraordinary things.


Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. United States Census Bureau, n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <>.


Road Map of Philadelphia., 2007. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <>/.


Thomas, G S. Census: Cincinnati 57th-largest U.S. city. Cincinnati Business Courier, n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. <>.

Clairity's picture

[Re-write] Being A Participant in Art -- Discussing with Kaprow And Sontag

       Before my trip to the Old City, I thought it was the spectator that made the picture. But this recent experience helped me realize that it was not that simple. It is not only the audience makes the picture, but also the performer, the creator and the artwork. These elements together make the "participants", who are actively engaged in the art or playful activities and jointly infuse dynamics and diversity into the work. The art is not complete without either the artist or spectators. A work engenders its true meanings with its participants. This also corresponds to Sontag's article on Against Interpretation. We should learn to "see more, to hear more, to feel more".

    This point was perfectly illustrated in my trip this weekend. On our way back, we ran into a piece of mosaic by Isaiah Zagar in an area that was not fairly close to the Magic Garden. Even if we were rushing for the train, we still stopped there for a while to take a clearer look. Located at the entrance inside an art school, the mosaic was still a shining piece for all of us. Because we had participated in Isaiah's artwork, had tried to find the beauty in every corner of his Magic Garden, and had quietly had a wonderful "conversation" with him through the shimmering art pieces. We were amazed at coming across his mosaic, but the women who sit outside the entrance looked at us strangely and wondered why seeing a colored wall made us so happy. Those women were merely spectators, unlike us. We engaged in Isaiah's work, therefore we were able to fully appreciate this amazing serendipity and understand the importance of this piece. Our joy was not due to the content of this piece of art, but because of feel the form and true self of it.

    However, it was a different case when we went into a used book store, The Book Trader. The huge amounts of books that were stacked on the ten-foot tall bookshelves overwhelmed us. Walking in the extremely narrow corridor between the bookshelves, we were dumbfounded by the diversity and quantities of the books. On the second floor, I found some people quite excited in their "treasure hunt". There were also a few of others sit quietly, completely indulged in their own reading. Their movements added liveliness to this kingdom of books. And I, as an observer, enjoyed watching them actively "performing". These two groups of people are true participants, making this place an art for us spectators.

    This point was introduced by Flanagan in her book Critical Play. She mentioned that Allan Kaprow, an Fluxus artist, involved "participants" rather than merely "spectators" in his performance art 18 Happenings in Six Parts. "Happenings", another title for performance art in New York, were planned but unscripted, unrepeatable and unique events that were performed by non-actors who had no intention to make the events theatrical. Actively engaged participants rather than passively observers were his goal in this project. He often insisted that there should be no spectators in his performance and that only active participants should be part of a "Happening". "Happening" emphasized the significance of active participation, which corresponded with my point of view here.

    This could be further explained in my experience in the Franklin Fountain, a unique ice cream store. Workers in the store all dressed up in costumes of the old times. And the decoration and rules here were also ancient and charming. Menus were carved into the wood wall and the store only accepted cash. Entering another world, we embraced this fascinating little piece of art as we walked in the narrow space, trying to get our ice cream. Every day, different, unrepeatable events happen here. They welcome all kinds of customers who appreciate their art gestures. But their art has meanings only if people came to participate and have conversation with them. Their art only makes sense with the admirers.

       In Kaprow's point of view of how art should be considered, my experience when encountering the mosaic by Isaiah Zagar those engrossed readers at the Book Trader meet insistence that only active participants should be in his performance. As for Sontag, viewing and feeling art in my coincidence of seeing Isaiah's another work  meets her theory to "not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art". On the last example of the Franklin Fountain, probably neither of Kaprow and Sontag will agree that my reaction is the way they think one should experience art.

    However, in my perspective, the artist, the performers and the audience working together create a better version of the art. An art won't be an art without any of these elements. Spectators are not the only co-creator with the artist. It's the "participants" that make the picture. And all of these examples fall into my category of the art experience.

Everglade's picture

Critical Play Rewrite

“It’s beautiful. No, it’s not quite aesthetically beautiful, but… It’s beautiful. I mean, the history, the people. It’s not the best part of Philly, but exactly because it’s not perfect, it has potential for improvement.” 

A Temple student told me so on the train to North Philly, during my last trip for this class. Her words reminded me of what Sharon Zukin said, “the soul of a city is often felt to be in the long-time residents”. She suggested that I talk to some local folks, but unfortunately there was little people outside on that snowy day.

I planned to see the mural which has RISE on one side and SHINE on the other. In the  photo online, it’s visible in distance, the pure white letters prominent among the vibrantly colored squares in the background. But standing right in front of the mural, I saw something else hidden under the shiny surface. 

The squares were not just colors, but portraits of artists of this project and residents of this area. By incorporating these portraits, the mural showed respect for the people who gave it life, and connected art with everyday life.

The letters were not purely white, either. Scribbles were all over them. Voice. Inspired. Attitude. Power. Soul. History. Dreaming. Beautiful. We believe life. Love. Hope. 

Here I feel the need to describe the surroundings. The building walls were all made of brick or cement, with barely any paint or decoration. Many shops along the streets were either closed or, even worse, broken. Grass grew from the cracked pavement. It was snowing heavily so the ground was all covered, or else I guess it would look a lot filthier. There was a boot on the street, bright pink, little girls’ style. Not a pair, only one. I didn’t want to imagine what happened or why it was here. People on the streets were standing or rambling aimlessly. I felt like I was the only person who was heading somewhere. I walked fast and held my hat low, hoping no one would notice I’m a girl and I would be safer this way.

Looking back at the mural, the scribbles of such positive and hopeful words seemed really odd. But the letters shone dazzlingly even if they were not impeccably white. So was this area, I thought. It was fascinating even if it’s dilapidated. The surface was just a face; what’s unseen from the surface was its true essence. I didn’t know the area well enough to tell how it’s going to develop or what potential it had, but I could sense that it was full of hope and had its unique culture and character. It might need a little repair and cleaning, but it didn’t need to be wiped out its vitality and be transformed into indifferent uniformity. Now I walked peacefully with my head up, smiling at strangers and attentively searching for interesting things around. I found several other murals of different styles, which really was a light in the dark muddy hue of this area. I especially loved the one on the wall of a kindergarden, which had 123 and ABC on it.

If it wasn’t for the mural, I would probably never go to North Philly, because everybody told me to avoid that dangerous area. Now I’ve been there and felt surprisingly good, and I wanted to do some research, know more about it, and go back several times. According to Flanagan’s Critical Play, the mural is “a creative act that shifts the way a particular logic or paradigm is operating.”(12), which created a drastic change in my opinion of North Philly. The mural is “a powerful means for marginalized groups to have a voice”(11), as it allowed people from North Philly, who were not so wealthy or successful in common opinion, to express their feelings about their home—“authentic” rather than desolate. By using “the street as the gateway to cultural intervention”(12), it demonstrated its idea more directly and ardently. 

Now let me take us back to our first trip into the city, during which I had an experience in a similar sense. At first I thought Philadelphia was the perfect Logan Square and shiny skyscrapers, but after my embarrassing encounter with a homeless man, I understood that a city is not the skyline but its people, and there’s a different beauty, “a kind of low-down but truer sense where the self can develop”(Sharon Zukin), beneath the surface.

It’s magical to me that my first and last trip have such similarity. It’s also magical that, Philadelphia never ceased to amaze me. 

Works Cited

Zukin, Sharon. The Cultures of Cities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995.

Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.

AnotherAbby's picture

And, In the End.....

“Everything that’s difficult you should be able to laugh about.”-Louis CK

“Yeah, my finals had me laughing. Laughing until I had no tears left to laugh with.”-Abby ACK

.           Play and humor are two concepts that go together hand-in-hand. Levels of humor easily find parallels in the levels of play: simple, critical, and deep.

Simple play is the first step in the spectrum of play. In terms of humor, simple play to the least thought provoking forms of humor. The jokes are funny, but this humor is not characterized by biting satire and sublime revelation. It’s not "lesser”, in the sense that it should come secondary to the other forms of humor, but it is the only genre that includes fart jokes. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a fart that made me reevaluate my beliefs and the truths of the universe. I have never, and will never, use flatulent humor as the lens through which I view the world. However, farts are just a small part of humor in simple play.

Simple play humor is the baseline upon which other forms of humor grow. It is the bare essential elements of comedy, rather than the concepts that can sustain a story. Take, for example, the Monty Python sketch The Funniest Joke in the World.



The beginning of the sketch is simple. A man writes the funniest joke in the world, and then dies of laughter. Then, his mother reads the same joke, and dies of laughter, all the while being narrated by a very official and matter-of-fact sounding voice. The joke even kills a police officer, who courageously ventures into the house to retrieve the joke and prevent further humor-related deaths. The first two and a half minutes of this sketch are funny because of their incongruities, but do not extend beyond simple play. It is funny that a joke can kill people, because we know jokes cannot do that, and it’s funny that something that’s clearly ridiculous would be taken so seriously. However, the rest of the sketch transitions into the story of how the military tried their best to weaponize the joke in order the help them win World War Two. That shift takes the sketch from a nice little example of simple play to a satirical piece of critical play. The first two and a half minutes could stand alone as a sketch that would be remembered as silly and moderately funny, but the addition of story through satire is what takes the sketch to the next level, in terms of humor, and sustains the sketch for another seven minutes or so, through the way it aims to provoke thought in the viewer.

Critical play probably encompasses most professionally created humor. If simple play is jokes, then critical play is concepts.  A joke a child tells its parents seldom gets into critical play; however, every episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” lives there. Critical plays aims to be more than a joke: it wants to be a subversive concept, a satirical story, or a statement that makes people laugh, but then forces them to think in order to truly understand it. And, in order to achieve that, critical play relies on deep-rooted truths as the foundation of its story.

A close friend and spinoff of “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, has mastered the technique of deadpan satire in encouraging critical play. The host, Stephen Colbert, presents each news story as if everything he says and every point he makes is a truth he wholeheartedly believes, even when what he says is obviously ridiculous, as opposed to Stewart’s style of openly pointing out the hypocrisy in whatever news story he’s dissecting. Colbert’s style relies more on the viewer’s ability to play critically than Stewart’s does. Where Stewart spoonfeeds, Colbert implies.

The Colbert Report, 12/10/13

This style of critical humor encourages viewers to look within themselves and their societies to figure out why the jokes are funny. Yes, the joke is good. But what about the meaning of the joke? Critical play, when used correctly in humor, should unsettle the viewer. In this clip, Colbert seems to advocate the stagnation of the middle class and the Brave New World-esque appeasement of Americans through television and luxury time. The point is not for the viewer to agree with what he’s saying: it’s the opposite. Colbert is trying to get people to question what they’re laughing about, because, although he himself is saying things satirically, these is danger in those who believe the points he’s ridiculing. It also goes even deeper, to the point where the presentation style is forcing the viewer not just to question Colbert, but to question other serious news outlets as well. Colbert presents his satirical material in the same manner as serious newscasters, making statements and calling them facts, even though what he says is obviously ridiculous. However, his style encourages people to approach “serious” news with the same critical eye they take to his work.

This leads into the concept of deep play in humor, the toughest level of play to explain in this context. When simple play and critical play are the joke and the concept, respectively, deep play deals more with the reaction humor garners from its audience. In Clifford Geertz’s Notes on a Balinese Cockfight, the act of deep play is the betting system in place around cockfights, one that transcends all social status and reason in order to profit bragging rights, if nothing else, from the fowl battle. So, in humor, deep play is all about the audience’s ability to play the Believing Game with what the comedian or show is presenting. In order for a person to deep play with humor, they need to believe that what’s happening is true. The viewer needs to believe that yes, there is a capuchin monkey named Annie’s Boobs living in the air ducts of Greendale Community College, in order to be able to play deeply with the NBC show “Community”. It’s nigh on impossible to play deeply in humor when one won’t suspend disbelief, however briefly. 

However, it’s not just the suspension of disbelief that allows people to play deeply with comedy. It also requires the humor to speak to who the viewer is as a person: their background, their preferences, their job, etc.. It is necessary be able to connect with the joke in order to play deeply with it, and that connection will come out of the viewer’s experiences in life.

Diane Ackerman, another writer on the subject of deep play, describes it as a more metaphysical way to experience life, one that happens outside any system of being. Ackerman’s definition, while lofty and difficult to grasp, does fit within Geertz’s definition in regards to deep play in humor. To play deeply with humor is to accept the incongruities, then connect and empathize with the message. Humor that invokes deep play will make someone laugh as easily as it will make him or her cry, no matter how ridiculous the situation.

Now, maybe, I think I could have experienced deep play. 

Samantha Plate's picture

What Is Play? (rewrite)

Samantha Plate

Play In The City


What Is Play? (Re-Write)

We seemed to have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Walking down the streets of Philadelphia, my group and I were in search of mosaics. At an intersection we randomly chose to go right, hoping this would take us the correct way. It did not. The street soon hit a dead end. While trying to decide where to go next, the sound of laughing children caught my attention. We were right near a playground full of children who had just gotten out of school. Wanting to follow our course assignment of “play in the city” we decided to go in and join all the children having fun on the jungle gym.  

What is play? This is a question that many individuals have tried to answer. Theorists, psychologists, and scientists are always trying to pin “play” down and give it a strict definition. Play can be specified as simple play, critical play, and deep play- all of which have been important to our studies of play in the city and all of which have very flexible and overlapping definitions. As a child plays it seems so simple and natural, but it is actually very complex. Play in itself defies definition- it is playful. Play sets all the rules and breaks them too. There are so many ways to describe this essential part of life.

As I observed the children playing around me I noticed how they were learning. There was little boy who was trying to follow his big sister’s travels up the spider web rope contraption. He held onto his father’s hand as he attempted to walk the tightrope of learning. And it was no easy task. Ellen, Claire, and I struggled quite a bit trying to maneuver our way around on these ropes. As I watched I learned too. I learned how to let go and let my feet take over for my mind. This connection to learning reminds me of critical play. While not strictly critical play, as it does not question “social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces” like Flanagan proposes it should, it involves thinking and learning, the play is serving a purpose rather than being a simple fun activity (Flanagan, 6). Through critical play the child is growing and learning with every step he takes.

Only a few minutes later I began to see what resembled deep play at work on the jungle gym. The same little girl who had led her brother up the rope maze was now leaving him in the dust as she began her fantasy game. I hear her tell her father who was on the ground about how she was the Queen and the jungle gym was her castle. Her father asks “What about your brother?” who was left crawling on the ground below. She asserts that he is too little to climb up and continues to play in her imaginary world by herself. She is independent and caught up in her own world. This may be the most perfect example of deep play. It barely contains any of the aspects that Ackerman thinks is required, but yet it truly is “the ecstatic form of play” (Ackerman). The smile on the little girl’s face told me that she was fully engaged in her perfect fantasy and there is no doubt in my mind that this was truly deep play.

We then decided to get a better vantage point and climbed the stairs to the highest part of the jungle gym. I looked down from my position and saw two children playing on a tire swing. The child on the swing was lying down and holding on and the strong little girl pushed him as high as he could go. She would run forward and then jump up and hold onto the swing when it changed direction, getting a ride herself. There was nothing special about this. There was nothing that made it critical play or deep play, it was an act of simple play. So much of our focus is spent looking at play that is special, that has a purpose. But in doing this we miss out on the simple play that children have all the time. Play that is free and fun and nothing else. Maybe we can learn something from these to kids about what is important to focus on.

If there is one thing that I learned in this course it is that every type of play has something to offer us, but what is truly important is play itself. We must make sure to keep it in our lives. In the very beginning of the year we read the article “Taking Play Seriously” that questioned whether or not we as a society are losing play. And what a loss that would be. Play “is the essence of good. Watch children at play, and the benefits are so obvious: just look at those ecstatic faces, just listen to those joyful squeals. Stuart Brown alluded to it in his library talk last month. ‘‘Look at life without play, and it’s not much of a life,’’ he told the audience” (Henig). So the next time you are feeling down and worried about all the little things in life, take some time to play, I know I will.

Works Cited

Ackerman, Diane. Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999. Chapter 1.

Flanagan, Mary. "Introduction to Critical Play." Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. 1-16. Print.

Hengig, Robin. “Taking Play Seriously”, New York Times (Feb. 17, 2008).


Yancy's picture

re-write paper

Before this semester, I never have thought I could learn so many different kinds of plays. Simple play, critical play and deep play, every play has its special meaning and make the word ‘play’ complicated in my mind. In the final essay, I want to come back and re-write one of my works about critical play.

Critical play is the first strange definition of play that I attached. Artists use this kind of play to express their special ideas to the public. This definition seems to be abstract but the real trip to Philly helps me a lot to understand it. When I enter into Chinatown, I suddenly know, the total place is a critical play. For me, it remind me of something familiar when I stay in China. The words, the people, the language and the names of food make me excited. However, I find the language, although is a kind of accents in China, I cannot understand. The food is not orthodox, and buildings keep the style of that in 80s in China. They are different from my real life in my hometown. The Chinatown is a critical play that is played by people in Chinatown. They want to create a familiar environment but failed because many of them even never come to China. They follow the rhythm of their predecessors. Their impressions for China, sometimes is the China in old stories. The Chinatown is the critical play for me and it is different from the real China in my mind.

The Chinatown is not only a critical play for China; it is also a critical play for Philly. Philly is a classic city of America style. The buildings, the people are so different from those in Chinatown. I speak English in Philly but I speak Chinese in Chinatown. The desserts in Chinatown are Xiao long bao, Shao mai, Nai huang bao and so on, but the desserts in Philly are different kind of cakes. The players in Chinatown show a really diverse life style to Philly. When I sit in ‘TeaDo’, drinking a cup of bubble tea and comparing quietly Philly and Chinatown, I notice a special and interesting phenomenon: in Philly, it is common to see homeless people walking around, but in Chinatown, I seldom see them. Why it happens? I go to Chinatown every week, and only at the last time, I saw some homeless people sleeping near a door.

I will explain the reason in two aspects. First, the Chinatown is not an ideal place for homeless people. The Chinatown is so small that it cannot provide the space for them. On the main street of Chinatown stand shops that sell food, vegetables and fruits. The street is narrow and is full of people most time. The owners of shops will be angry if the homeless people stay in front of their gates because customers do not want to see homeless people when they are eating or drinking. So, the owners will try to disperse homeless people. Also, if the homeless people stay in the street all the day, it is inconvenient for passerby who wants to buy goods in Chinatown. In winter, it is very cold outside and homeless people cannot find suitable place in Chinatown, but they will feel comfortable in warm septa station nearby. To the homeless people in Philly, they won’t choose Chinatown to stay because of the environment. Then, what about the Chinese homeless people? This is the second aspect. The existence of Chinese homeless people is stopped by Chinese people in Chinatown. The first migration from China built Chinatown in Philly. Actually those people have to pass the inspections by United States Customs to keep their ability to live in United States. They stay in the Chinatown and their descendants continue to live there, following their parent’s footsteps. To those who cannot live in Philly, they will choose to come back to China. Maybe there are some people cannot come back and become homeless people, Chinatown also have a small hospice for them. The hospice is built by people in Chinatown. In Chinese culture, staying in street shame those homeless people, so once they find some place to stay, they will not wander in street. So, because homeless people in Philly refuse to stay in Chinatown and local Chinese homeless people are rare and do not stay in street, it is seldom for me to see homeless people in Chinatown.   


Yancy's picture

last short post

In Sontag’s article ‘Against interpretation’, she propose her idea that the interpretation today is useless and not valuable. When I read her title, in the beginning, I disagreed because I thought interpretation was necessary for me to understand the meaning of art works. However, when I read the article, I notice that maybe I’m wrong. In her definition and explanation for modern interpretation, that is, people set some criterions and ‘put’ art works in them to interpret the art works. This kind of interpretation is so terrible for me. Thousands of artists use special ways to express different ideas. If I really want to understand their original idea, I should discard such criterions and feel the work individually.

clarsen's picture

Deep Play Rewrite


     Since reading Ackerman’s “Deep Play” article, I’ve keep an eye out for it in my day to day experiences and have tried to use it as a lens on assigned trips to Philadelphia.  Searching for such an intense and heavily emotion based sense has proved difficult, however, and it’s become even clearer that “deep play” is entirely natural and in the moment.  A hunt for deep play is not fruitful as it involves overanalyzing and planning.  As I open my sketchbook, paint a canvas, or begin a sculpture, I find myself incredibly focused and elated.  I suppose it shouldn’t come as a shock to me that I’ve been experiencing deep play when doing what I love most.  Art has always been a large part of my life and is therapeutic along with enjoyable.

            Ackerman defines “deep play” a number of different ways and uses words such as “freedom”, “thrill” “whole”, and “sacred”.  She states “there are times during deep play when one feels invincible, immortal, an ideal version of oneself”.  When practicing art, I feel as though all problems and worries melt away and the only thing that matters is the piece at hand.  It is remarkably fulfilling and I can feel myself “in the zone” where I am so thoroughly focused.  Deep play is an experience where one gains an extraordinary amount from an event.  It may be an extreme understanding or happiness or simply where “one finds clarity” and an “acceptance of self”.

            One word used when defining the many faceted “deep play” is realization.  I haven’t made many outlines when writing essays this year yet I’ve noticed that when typing ideas and concepts spill out.  Deep play in writing is realization.  After writing, the author should have a greater grasp on the topic at hand.  Not through research but rather through a self-discovery with words eventually falling into place.  Writing and thinking freely allows for this to happen naturally. 

            Writing with extreme concentration is also an important key to deep play. Full immersion when writing can also lead to a therapeutic experience, which can be component to deep play.  When I was a child, I religiously wrote in my diary, which served as deep play writing for me.  I documented my day-to-day experiences and thoughts and because of this was able to make many self-realizations and discoveries about myself. 

            When writing essays for this class, I have found that I’ve practiced “deep play” in some aspects.  I usually succeed in gathering my thoughts together and grasping a new concept or conclusion.  The ideas don’t always naturally flow out however, and I feel I could have utilized deep play more in my last essay on Eastern State Penitentiary.  Rather than spending such a great portion of the essay focusing on facts, I could have shared more opinionated thoughts or even written it from the point of view of a prisoner, reformer, or guard.  Deep play both in writing, life, and art should be something that comes organically with little thinking involved.  It should allow you to take risks, push the envelope, and be fully engulfed in the moment.

ecohn's picture

My City of Play (Reworked)

Ellen Cohn


Reworked Essay

My City of Play

At the beginning of my Bryn Mawr-bound summer, I had a checklist of everything I had to do to prepare myself to begin college. One of the most daunting things on the list was to select my top three choices for an Emily Balch Seminar.  Although each one seemed intriguing, I ended up selecting the “Play in the City” Seminar, largely because of the professor teaching it: Theater has been a big part of my life, and although I do not necessarily want to major in theater, staying within a community which I understand, and which generally understands me, seemed like a great idea. With Mark Lord, the head of the theater department, teaching my Emily Balch Seminar, I figured that I could get to know him without taking a theater class or participating in a main stage production.

I got so much more out of this Seminar than I was expecting. When I initially wrote this essay, I wrote about food, and how my freedom in the city (provided by this course) allowed me to express myself through my travels and the takeaway from those travels. Many times, the choices I made involved food, so I connected the enjoyment and freedom I felt in the city with that of the food I experienced.

Now that this course is over, I can reflect on everything I’ve learned. Throughout this seminar, we have read many essays, articles, and interviews. We have written many postings, had many discussions, and filled a toolbox. We have met in writing groups, done many classroom exercises, and found different points of view for our papers. We have also learned about a few different types of play.

Learning about Ackerman’s concept of Deep Play in this seminar was quite an interesting experience. I agree with the point that we all try to find deep play, and I would like to connect this with Sontag’s assertion that interpretation makes it harder for us to have an emotional reaction to art (or, anything, for that matter).

In my first trip into the city, my group and I were walking around before our show time for “The Quiet Volume”. We stumbled upon a large, cement park, filled with giant game pieces. This type of art did not lend itself to being interpreted; we did not sit there asking why the domino was falling down, or trying to give meaning to the giant top hat. We simply ran inside and started playing. By rejecting the idea of interpretation, and instead allowing ourselves to have an emotional reaction to the park, we got very much into the idea of play. I believe, we began to deeply play.

Studying the concept of Deep Play was pretty cool. I believe that I try to deeply play frequently, and I search for it whenever I can. One example of this occurred that day of our first trek into Philadelphia, in the park with the large game pieces. The game pieces’ insanely large sizes provided a sort of “Alice in Wonderland” experience for me, making me feel small, like a child again. This allowed me to invest more in the moment. I became truly in the moment, and enjoyed the rarity, joy, freedom, physical engagement, connection, and fullness of time that are all characteristic of a moment of deep play.

I don’t think that I would have been able to enjoy this moment of deep play if I had focused more on interpreting the park. If my group and I had stopped to wonder why it was there, who may have created it, why it was created, why the artist creates specific pieces, and why they colored or arranged them in certain ways, we would not have had such an emotional and riveting experience.

Selecting my Emily Balch Seminar may have been a daunting task, but the decision I made proved to be spectacular. Learning about things like Deep Play has helped me understand many of my experiences, and finding relationships, such as between deep play and the lack of interpretation, has been truly enlightening.  

pbernal's picture

Rewrite: What is a City? (Syllabus)



Deep in The Heart of Texas -Syllabus


As you walk into this class, you all hold knowledge as to what a city is, a town of significant size. But what and who really make the city? This class will focus mainly on perception and interpretation as we venture through Houston and explore several aspects of what makes Houston, deep in the heart of Texas. As a class, we will analyze what terms like diversity, culture, immigration, and relationships mean to us individually through our experiences of Houston. And with each trip we will discuss how each place manages to keep Houston growing and strong.

Our class is a total of twelve and will take a total of seven trips into the city. Each will be different and will focus on a new aspect of Houston. There will be a van that will take us to each of our destinations. Your trips all paid for thanks to The Brown Foundation. Caminen con esperanza!


Discovery Green

Parks are structured to fit people’s needs. Parks close to schools and family orientated neighborhoods, if not all, most, have a playground for children to enjoy.  Whereas in a part of the city where there’s more commuting and far more exposed, the welcoming factor tends to wane and the importance of appearance is far more critical. 

Discovery Green Park challenges Houston as a city and its citizens. It has a dog-friendly area for man and their bestfriend, a small library with literature’s best collections for when it gets a little too hot outside, a small lake to canoe through, free yoga classes every Saturday morning, and much more. And the thing is, it’s all located in the heart of downtown. Discovery Green is a push for individuals to think of downtown of not only as a busy city hustle, but also as an enjoyable and welcoming part of the city that incorporates both work and play.

This is a great first trip into the city, because not only will you walk around downtown and explore the skyscrapers and the business formal part of the city, but also play by letting yourself go and have a good time in the park all within the same space, Houston’s Downtown.


Flea Market

Chapters are meant to divide parts of books so that each has something different to express, but ultimately all the chapters together make a whole book. We all live through distinct chapters in our lives, but in the end each experience in every chapter play into effect of who we are. Our life experiences are mosaics in the making, the people we surround ourselves with, the experiences, they all make a whole of fragments.

For your second trip, you’ll be walking through one of Houston’s Flea Markets, Cole’s Antique Village. It originally began as a small air conditioned shop filled with antiques to sell, but little by little more people came along and started to sell things of their own, old or new. What started of as a small shop with only 10 tables has now turned into a Flea Market of about 1,300 tables.

It’s taking the shopping experience to another level. You’ll find all sorts of vendors selling each different things like religious sculptures to the new working diets. You’ll see a lot of bargaining and culture interaction. Each table holds a different selling item unique to the vendor. You’ll observe how all the vendors come together and make a whole of their businesses to provide an overwhelming shopping experience quite different than any other you’d have before.


Houston Arboretum

Our third trip will focus more on a different intake of Houston as a city. So far we’ve explored the inner loop part of Houston. The inner loop part of Houston is known to be the cosmopolitan style of life. Keep in mind, Houston is a large city, in fact the fourth largest in the country. While outside the loop each district stands alone to cater to the type of individuals living in those designated districts also known as wards in Houston.

Once you walk through the Houston Arboretum, it might seem like you’ve stepped into a bubble within the city in which you find yourself in the outdoors. Houston has an experience for each type of person and they do a good job of preserving Houston’s prairies and other nature qualities while at the same time sharing space to grow Houston as a developed city.

You’ll walk with a notebook and pen through the nature trails and explore the park for about an hour. Your cellphones and watches will be taken away while you’re out and about in order for you to really experience the Houston Arboretum without any technological distractions. In a way, like the Houston Arboretum, you’ll be making your own bubble.


Rothko Chapel/ Montrose Neighborhood

You’re on to your 4th venture into the city and by now you’ve started to form your own ideas of Houston as a city. You’re starting to put all the perceptions together and coming up with something clever, but you can’t just yet. You’re forgetting to interpret Houston through a different lens. Perceptions allow us to analyze and interpret but why not step out and try seeing things through a different lens, perspective every once in while…

On your 4th venture through the city, you’ll visit the Rothko Chapel, which is located in one of Houston’s most liberal neighborhoods, The Montrose Area. The Montrose area is a home to many communities and it’s known to be the leader in Houston’s growth process as a welcoming and accepting city to diverse groups. Walk around and look at it all through the lens of a certain individual who would feel more comfortable in the Montrose area rather than in the heart of the city.

As for the Rothko Chapel, come in and perceive it with the same lens. The Rothko Chapel is a place of meditation for all types of beliefs opened everyday for everyone. The mural canvases by Mark Rothko are set up on the walls of the chapel to create a peaceful environment “The mission of the Rothko Chapel is to inspire people to action through art and contemplation, to nurture reverence for the highest aspirations of humanity, and to provide a forum for global concerns ” as found in their About Chapel section. 


Gulfton Neighborhood

Ya’ll have explored within and out of the loop of Houston, but have you become part of people’s loops? The fifth trip is about really immersing yourself with the culture and challenging your comfort level to step out and interact with diversity.

We will start by walking in the Fiesta Mart Supermarket. We will spend an hour walking around and look into what’s available for the customers. What types of customers are walking in? How is this supermarket any different from any other supermarket? Within the hour of walking around the Supermarket, you have to meet and have a conversation with two people. They can either work there or shop there, but you have to try and become part of the loop.

The Gulfton community is home to many immigrants in Houston. It’s often referred as The Ellis Island of Current Time. It’s a community that welcomes diversity to connect globally but also locally. You’ll drive down the streets and it’s filled with several little shops and rich delicious food where you’ll find no where else in the city as genuine as in the Gulfton community.



The Journey is almost to an end! How would you express your experiences thus far without words? What if you lost the ability to speak? How would you then share with the class your journey?

Art is an important form of expression and it presents itself in many forms. Whether it is through musical beats and rhythm, paintings, graffiti, or even photographs. Art is not only expressive, but also personal. On your 6th journey, I’d like you to forget your perceptions on museums. You’ll be headed to Fotofest, “a combination of museum-quality art with important social and aesthetic ideas, ” as About Fotofest expresses.

You’ll explore the concept of Literacy through Photography and use it to express your experiences of Houston.


Restaurant Hunt

Congratulations! You’ve explored outside and inside the loop! You’ve challenged yourself and immersed yourself with different communities and explored the importance of relationships within them. What is a city? I’d hope you’d answer more than a significant population size and skyscrapers.

For your last trip, you’ll be exploring different restaurants in Houston all within different parts of the city. You’ll break into groups of four and there will be a total of three groups going to three different restaurants. Houston is big on the food scene and with so many cultures immersed in one large city, there’s a lot to try. 

  • Pappa’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant
    • In 1967, two greek brothers opened the first Pappa’s Restaurant and now there’s currently eight different Pappa’s Restaurants all in Houston.
  • Tel-Wink Restaurant
    • Two Chicago citizens opened a successful restaurant in southeast Houston, despite the area, it’s been successful with friendly service.
  • The Flying Saucer
    • Oldest pie shop in Houston
    • Family owned and operated and every pie is made from scratch, they never sell frozen pies.

Works Cited

"History of Discovery Green." - Discovery Green, Houston, Texas. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013. <>.

Gregoire, Carolyn. "Best City Parks In The U.S.: 10 Relaxing Green Spaces For A Little Urban Zen." The Huffington Post., 3 May 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Best Thrift Stores & Flea Markets In Houston « CBS Houston." CBS Houston. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Home." Cole's Antique Village. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Montrose, Houston." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <,_Houston>.

"The Rothko Chapel will be closed on August 15 and August 16 for building maintenance.." Rothko Chapel. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Gulfton, Houston." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <,_Hou

"Fiesta Mart." Foursquare. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Houston Museum District Association."Houston Museum District. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

"ABOUT FOTOFEST." FotoFest. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

"Pappas Restaurants." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 May 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

""WELCOME HOME!"." Tel-Wink Restaurant & Grill. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.

"About the Flying Saucer Pie Company."Flying Saucer Pie Company Fresh Homemade Pies in Houston Texas RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.


pbernal's picture

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pbernal's picture

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natschall's picture

I love Philadelphia.

I love Philadelphia. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

I know that I should explain that further, that “love” is a stand-in word for not expressing myself more fully. But really, “I love Philadelphia” is the only thing I can think every time I go into the city. It gives me such a sense of home, of connection, that nowhere else I’ve ever been has been able to give me.

In my first essay on this topic, my relationship to cities, I said that I judge cities based on how those around me feel. But after taking this course, I think it goes a little deeper than that.

I like cities when I feel like I can truly let go in them. Of course, this feeling does come from being around those who are comfortable in the city, but it most of all comes from deep play. If I witness others experiencing deep play and letting go of their inhibitions in the city, I’ll also feel like I can do that.

Looking at my current relationship to Philadelphia (perhaps cities in general, but I’d like to focus mainly on Philly for the purposes of this essay), I don’t think that I actually based my reaction to it on others as much as I thought I did for new cities. This is why I think that deep play is the most important thing for viewing cities. I found, every time I went into the city over the course of this semester, I found some way to let go and find deep play. Correspondingly, every time I went to the city, I loved it even more.

Deep playing in Philly allowed me to form a true relationship to it, without distraction from anything that might have been bothering me that day and stopped me from having a good time. I could fully let myself go and experience just what the city was, not what I or others projected onto it. Just what Philly is as a whole.

I saw my fair share of cockroaches and rats scuttling by on the street, but I also saw people loving each other--weddings and helping each other on slippery ice and laughing on park benches. I saw people letting themselves go, and I did too. To experience Philly, I have to let down my guard--not on purpose, but just as a reflex, knee-jerk reaction to being in the city that just may be my future home. Sure, there are bad things, but there are good things too, and they balance each other out perfectly. Philly’s not a perfect city, but wouldn’t that be the most boring thing if it were?

And that is what I feel connected to. Philadelphia. The true Philadelphia. The Philadelphia of no worries. The Philadelphia experienced through deep play.

Student 24's picture

Words in My Mouth, like Strawberries, in October

I played with Frost. It was October. If only I had learnt from Ray Bradbury that October was a grotesque Country where you should only step foot if you are looking to be assaulted by the skeletons your mind shoved in a closet on purpose in the first place. It was October, silly.

I opened the closet, and out walked Robert. He brushed off the Frost from his shoulders; it must have been cold and dusty behind the Doors. Or he was tired of being cold. He walked out. And I stepped into his Home Burial.

I fell deep. The door was wide open and I fell damn deep. I told myself all I had to do was pull apart the words and reconstruct them into a window. So I sat on the narrow, creaky staircase and listened attentively to Frost and his wife. But slowly – I found – slowly, I was listening to myself. And I had the same voice as his wife.

I was accusing. I was hurt. I was pushing away. I was losing. I was missing. Home Burial. 

There wasn’t a way to pick out my own words, care about his, and try to assemble a window which might cast light on our conflict. What we needed to was to smash open the windows we already had, and get some fresh air.

I was overwhelmed as I fell deeper and deeper into Frost’s Home. Or was Frost just pulling out some things that already existed deep in the back of my closet?

Lay them on the table. Let me hear you say what you already know about them, but use a different voice so you can hear yourself do the talking. 

Frost played with me more than I was capable of resisting. So I played back.

I wrote that,


There is nothing more beautiful

“There is nothing more beautiful than a dying rose,” she murmured.

“There’s you,” he tried.

“There is no need,” she neared herself to him, “for redundancy.”

“You needn’t constantly bring those flowers,” she whined. “You needn’t constantly make me watch them die.” 
“But you don’t see me kill them. I just bring you what is freshly dead by other hands.”

“You needn’t,” she retreated, “remind me of rotting carcasses.”

She’d only kept the bouquets for show. For showing the real petals she kept would be too grotesque a scene for a light-hearted, happy-fingered flower-picker.

“Let’s hold hands,” she twitched. “And skip through a pumpkin patch.”

And so they did.

And so they very much did.

They skipped through orangey meat and leafy tentacles,

and through the stringy, fleshy seeds—

all the while the crows would sneer at her,

or at them both?

“There is nothing,” she recited. “There is nothing.”

“There is only nothing.”

“You needn’t constantly run,” he tried to catch her breath before catching his own.

“You need only to—”

“Nothing. There is only nothing,” she panted. She panted.

“But, where? Where is this nothing you see?”

“Always becoming, in all its beauty, nothing. And me only just less beautiful.”
And so she very much was.


I wrote back.

And in doing so, many catching-of-breaths later, I was introduced to Instructions.

A new voice Instructed me in a constructed chamber. I took Neil’s voice and decorated it with my own harmonies. Then I inhaled deeply and submerged myself in an ambient ocean.

There, below, I met December’s Frost. December was generous with strawberries. Who would have thought? Hearts can be well-hidden, he smiled affectionately in response to my musing.

Have I truly left October?

I’ve walked down a different path and through a different door into a different home. Oh, sorry? Make a home, or rest, I hear. A home? How?

Walk through the house, take nothing.

I’ve just been sitting here, on the steps, listening to them. Don’t worry, I won’t take anything. (But I am slightly offended. I am not a thief, after all. It’s not my house, but I can make a home here, I hope? To make a home. Do I take or do I give.) 

If it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease its pain.

So, to give, I take it, is the correct response.

And again: She may ask for something. Give it to her.

I remember the previous home. The previous Burial. She – I – was asking, but there was nobody to give it to her – me – because it was already taken before. That kind of loss, I – she – know, cannot be given no matter how she – I – pleads. 

The woman is older now, so much older. And I have done nothing to help her.

Pick strawberries, the Frost of December is offering as advice in wintry whispers. Pick strawberries.

Pick strawberries.

I know I’ve written and sung about strawberries before,

“Spotted not seen, among all the green,
I'm saying that you've got to mean it.
Despite any screen for colors serene,
Delirious meaning you've seen it.

Stepping and splattering, slurring your screeches,
I'm stumbling into sympathetic beaches.
Suppressed into a sea of sandy-haired seduction;
Got to find you, 'cause I'm slipping on fuzzy yellow peaches.

But it's so sweet in my mouth, the taste of singing those sugary love songs,
And it's so sweet licking your tears of joy,
And it's so unbearably sweet to dance on the street in the raining strawberries.
I wouldn't wanna lose one, no I wouldn't wanna lose a strawberry like you,”

But we must have lost something because we are asking to be given.

Trust ghosts. Trust those who you have helped to help you.

There is so much space in this ghostly ocean of words and imagination. There is so much space you can’t see the end. You can’t hear the end.

The ghosts make me think that home is an end because it was the beginning. They make me think that comfort and familiarity is an end because it was the beginning. I make me think that a broken home is an ended home and must be buried outside from the home. And then what?

I wouldn’t wanna lose a strawberry like you. Losing is the worst.

I would think hearing my own voice to be comforting, but it is not. I hear myself in an ambient ocean behind a foreign voice. If I put others’ words in my mouth, like strawberries, am I tasting the strawberry? Or am I expressing the taste of the strawberry? Or am I the strawberry?

You are what you eat.

If I put my words in others’ mouths, are they still my words? Am I hearing myself? Am I listening to myself? Or only my words? Am I my words? Are my words me? 

You are what you - I - say.



Inspiring poems: 

Robert Frost, “Home Burial.”

Neil Gaiman, “Instructions.”

[sound file link in e-mail]

pialikesowls's picture

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.

In the picture I have included, the large center painting is of a woman and child, with a large chest underneath it, in addition to a small painting and big metal piece above it. On the first left and right, both paintings are of trees and nature, with small door locks and small paintings of fruit. On the second left and right, both paintings are portraits with crucifix-shaped door locks above it. Lastly, the third layer of the wall has paintings of a group of people together, with fork like metal pieces above it. Also contributing to the symmetry are chairs, and small tables with teapots on them.

Something that Barnes focused on when organizing his walls was symmetry. For example, you would be able to tell what the center of the “painting” is, as he constructed it larger and more elaborately. He would place a larger painting in the center of the wall with a large piece of furniture under it, and put smaller paintings on either side. Oftentimes, the paintings on the sides would be similar in theme.

Barnes arranged the furniture very particularly; each wall is different and has different intentions. The walls were arranged in such a way that each painting compliments the other, and the furniture and door locks are just as important as the Renoirs. However, in this sense, the paintings were, after all, the main focus. Everything from the door locks and the teapots pointed towards the paintings, drawing you towards the most important parts of the wall. In paintings of the Virgin and Child, there would be saints and donors in the painting, but sometimes they would be gazing or pointing towards the Virgin and Child as that is what the artist wanted you to focus on. Oftentimes, even the architecture in the painting would lead your eye to the subject. Similar to a Renaissance painting, Barnes led our eyes to the paintings using furniture.

I realized that Barnes, just like the artists, was also creating Impressionist paintings, wall by wall. While it may be nice to look at every painting, one by one, that was not what Barnes intended us to do when we went through the rooms in the museum. If you just looked at one of the teapots, you would be confused as to why it is there. However, when you look at the entire wall, you can see that the teapot is pointing towards the paintings, serving its purpose in context. This parallelism goes along with the Impressionist theme, where each part has a function to the whole.

Barnes used each piece to make art on the wall, and this affects the way visitors look at the art. It might not be so noticeable at first, but neither is Impressionism. Barnes’ love for Impressionist paintings contribute greatly to the way that a museum frequenter looks at art, and takes it to the next level with how personal the foundation is. Compared to a museum, the Barnes lacks the impersonal white walls and instead covers the walls and floors with several paintings, furniture, and door locks.

I don’t think Barnes would be fully disappointed in the Barnes that exists today. It educates us while compelling us to look at the art in a way that is unfamiliar to us. The Barnes Foundation is unique because it forces us to look at art out of the White Wall Complex that so many other museums utilize. It forces us to realize that museum art is not limited to what is in the frame.

Cathy Zhou's picture

About Sontag

I think the idea of "against interpretation" is fetched. Even she's trying to ask people not to interprete art, I feel like interpretation has to happen in the interaction with art. If you don't have any knowledge or experience of art, you would not even be willing to come to an art piece and spend time with it. And it's not like if you stop thinking, you would have a better approach with art. Many paintings have their own stories, without interpretation, the original story would be lost. I don't believe there could be any bare appreciation of art with no interpretation.


Cathy Zhou's picture

And for play in the city2, I

And for play in the city2, I would like to explore the boundry of the city and suburb. I want to see what determins that and how the city planners draw a line between places.

playcity23's picture

A Re-Write of My Very First Essay

If I’m going to tell you what my definition of what a city is, my personal style dictates that I use a slightly unconventional metaphor for it. This one was thought up today whilst I was burning calories in the pool. 

Imagine a bowl half-filled with water. 

Now imagine this bowl with blue food coloring diffused coloring in it. It’s a pretty shade of lavender. There is no obvious nucleus where the color leaks from because you’ve stirred the bowl to avoid this. 

Next, you carefully place the vial of food coloring into the bowl of water. Being only half-full, it bobs happily on the surface. Since you spilled a little on the vial itself before putting it in, the immediate water enveloping it is a darker shade of lavender. 

The bowl is the border of a country, the vial with the food coloring is the only city, and the water is everything in it. Granted, I can’t think of any country that only has one city in it, save for the Vatican but they don’t count for the purposes of this essay. 

To put this all in a nutshell, a city is a concentration of everything that makes a country unique from the other 194 on earth. This is my original opinion, though it might have been subconsciously morphed from the three different essays we read. Mumford asserted that a city is a cluster of different groups that brace each other through “economic regulation.” He also was enamored with the drama that come with it. Simmel never plainly stated what he thinks is a city because he was more concerned with what cities do to our minds. Lastly, Zukin sees a city as a nucleus of authenticity. 

I think Georg Simmel and I would agree the most. He asserts that because the city has so many stimuli that constantly demand your precious attention, the city dweller becomes “blasé” or indifferent to his surroundings. The stimuli must be kept at some distance, or else it would wear the dweller down so much he can’t take it anymore. Simmel then moves on to explain the metropolis is a space of free-thinking and release from the close-mindedness of a small community. It gives the mind ample opportunity to move faster and remain alert for longer while liberating it. 

Simmel agrees with me that the city is a concentration of human life, though I’m not sure what he would think about the city being the concentration of the country around it. I can definitely agree with the liberation and the blasé-ness attitude I feel when I experience Geneva. I usually am not conscious of it until returning to my suburban home. The city truly does demand you to be faster and nimble-thinking. Geneva has trams snaking their ways through the streets with very little audio warning that they’re coming around the corner. The Mont-Blanc bridge is constantly shaking from traffic. There are expensive cars roaring down the too-small streets. There are plain-clothed cops at night with a fondness of treating the perpetrator very roughly. 

While all this drama is draining to my energy and mind, it is so exhilarating at the same time. If there’s one state I hate more than being nauseous, it’s being bored. Cities never allow me to be bored. Small communities let me. This essay got me thinking going to graduate school in a big city. 

tomahawk's picture

Play in the CIty Part II: Believing Game in Action

Sontag: believing game

Yes, people focus on their analyzation/interpretation of art far more than the emotional impact of the art. In the English classes I have been in, people are spending more time trying to manipulate texts in certain ways to prove an interpretation they hold. Yet, this is not a direct reading or a respectful one. It ignores the original work, and it distances people from it. People feel as if the interpretation of a work actually surpasses the work itself.

I would go to the Free Library and pick up books off of the shelves and read one to two sentences from each of them. Perhaps the lack of context would help me separate interpretation of a text from the text itself. Maybe the words themselves will impact me more than the meaning that might surround the words (this wouldn't be the other words on the page, but my own separate thoughts about words that is derived from context). Maybe in this way I could actually test the believing game and submit myself to it so that I could better understand the benefits of Sontag's argument.

nightowl's picture

Concrete and Abstract in Sonntag

I would say that in Sonntag’s essay anything concrete would mean an example or interpretation and abstract would be leaving the art alone with time and it’s physicality. Sonntag leaves parts of her essay open to interpretation in her use of sentence structure and words and what “new vocabulary” we would use to describe/define art. Instead of “genius” I would say as a “critic” that this is a lack of it, a lack of concrete ideas. I don’t like how she presents the abstract emotional side of art as indefinable. I think the emotional reaction that someone has to art is directly related to concrete ideas about the world. This as she says can constrain the artwork, but there are also multiple interpretations of art. Therefore, art mixed with time and multiple people has the potential to be interpreted in almost everyway. This basically infinite amount of interpretations is how I think of the abstract emotional side of the art. I think that interpreting isn’t altering something but is taking from it something that is already there whether the artist knew they put it there or not.

As a side note I do like how she bashes history because I’ve always hated learning about things that have been interpreted multiple times…stories about stories about stories. But then again, her essay was built on what she has read and is an interpretation and history of sorts, and I found it really interesting despite this. Also when she talks about the history of interpretation in academics, interpretation is more primal then that. Interpretation would have been used when finding food while hunting and guessing which way an animal might move or which berries were safe to eat. Interpretation is one of the most basic tools of thinking, “to understand is to interpret.

When my grandmother died I made art out of the flower petals from her funeral. When I showed this artwork to a friend he asked if this had a special significance to it. I simply said “no” because I didn’t want to claim the art as well thought out or meaningful simply because it was made out of grief/death which is something I don’t understand. In that example I left the art in the abstract not because I was “genius” or was a person with a “mind” but because I simply did not know. What I was playing with was bigger than something I could create. So in the case of this story I kind of get part of Sonntag’s point, or maybe I'm more confused.

ecohn's picture

True or False about Sontag?

In the excerpt we read from Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation," Sontag threw out many strong opinions about why interpretation is bad. Saying things like "Interpretation...violates art" and explaining that interpretation lets us forget our initial emotions. From this reading, I've generated a true/false question:

Does trying to find meaning in art strip the work of its otherwise emotion-rendering power? 

Everglade's picture

Against Interpretation

“Against Interpretation” can be paralleled to the Believing Game. The believing game is the next level of the doubting game. It's not blindly believing in everything, but someone with the ability of critical thinking choosing to believe. Similarly, Sontag is not promoting ignorance and asking us to deny any knowledge of art, but suggesting that there is another way to look at art: don't rush to judge every artwork, try to enjoy and appreciate first.

tflurry's picture

The Problem of Practicality

I rather enjoyed Sontag’s essay; her argument was an interesting one, a point of view that I had thought in passing but never considered in depth. That said, I found her somewhat frustrating, simply because while her argument is all well and good, she offers no practical advice for how to put it into action. Particularly among traditionally educated people and in the North American school system, students are taught little else but how to interpret everything they see. It is incredibly rare for me to look at anything and not start automatically dissecting it for ‘deeper meaning’, and on those rare occasions I experience a piece without analyzing it, its purity remains unsullied for the length of time for me to realize what I’ve experienced before I go back to the begin and analyze it then. What seemed to me to be one of the interesting parts of her argument, and the part that she least touched on, is how to incorporate her ideas into practical use. How does one use this ‘vocabulary of form’ she discusses, without making comparisons of some sort? How can one discuss anything without comparisons? And how, among a group of people taught to interpret, taught to make connections that are not inherent to the piece, how can one make comparisons without connections, and through those interpretation?

Mindy Lu's picture

Against Interpretation

Thoughout Susan's claim,I generaly agree with her. The exact interpretation of art may not only lead to misunderstanding of the ture meaning of the Art, but also, more ridiculous, add more ideas on the artworks, which may be never came up with the artists when they did them. In my opinion, every work of art represents a unique mood of its artist who made it, which means that,except the artist himself/ herself, nobody can exactly feel or interprete its meaning. 

However, I still think that Susan's claim is a little bit exceeding. The interpretation is not completely useless or harmful. Some logical speculation can help us to learn the artwork better. I think the goal of the artists to create artworks is not only express their thinkings, but also to deliver informations to the viewer. As viewers, we should try to guess or image something from the artwork and try to understand it.

Muni's picture

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.

lksmith's picture

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. 

Clairity's picture

Sontag and Interpretation

In her essay, Sontag is strongly against the contemporary way of interpreting the art, which is to focus on its content and its meaning. I feel like this way is a modern trend -- to find meanings behind the art. It poses a lot of pressure on people who are appreciating the art, because they're expected to find some kind of "significance". My experience when I was writing my Barnes essay is a good example. Although we were asked to write a descriptive rather than a analytical paper, I still felt the need to include a "discovery" or conclusion on the piece of art in the end of my essay. Sometimes we try so hard to achieve the things we feel that we have to achieve, but in the meantime, we are missing the point. We should look at art for what it is, instead of attempting to impose a meaning that makes sense but we don't truly relate to.

Sontag proposes that we should emphasize on the sensuous form of the art, which reminds me of my trip to the Magic Garden. I didn't interpret anything when I was surrounded by the amazing mosaics, but rather let everything in. All I did was seeing, hearing, and feeling. I was a free person at the moment.


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Frindle's picture

Interpreting Art and High School Lit Classes

The further along I got in the essay, the more I started to see this not only as a disscussion about interpreting paintings and the like, but also as being about books. Sontag believes that we should not interpret art, that it takes away from the real value of it. Ancient versions of this that built on top of the art are acceptable, but digging behind it is not. This reminded me of my high school lit classes. I feel as though the majority of the essays I wrote ended up being about some sort of symbolism or metaphor or interpretation of the book (and most of the time, I didn't believe). We spent very little time building on it: relating it to our life, history, politics, science, often we got caught up in tiny details that were supposed to be the "true meaning behind the novel." But sometimes we don't need to hear that. Sometimes we need to understand that the surface story is just as important.

pialikesowls's picture


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.

Taylor Milne's picture

Against Interpretation

Throughout Susan Sontag’s essay I found myself losing the path that she was trying to build her points, and I found that often they would contradict themselves. I would say that from the tools we have learned in the class I had to use focused reading to try and interpret what she was trying to say, along with this I think that she has many of the same ideologies as Barnes, in that she thinks things should be enjoyed rather than over-analyzed. With this she is trying to have us play the believing game, because she makes many assertions within the text that make us ask ourselves if we agree or disagree with her ideas.

AnotherAbby's picture

For Against Interpretation

With Susan Sontag’s essay, I feel like one of the only “tools” that I can use, and certainly the only tool she would have me use, is the believing game. I am listening to every word she says without pushing back, poking holes, and pointing out the flaws in her argument, and I am going to do my best to see what she has to say by believing her.

The line that most affected me in this piece was: “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous”. I think that that, more than anything else, is the strongest argument she makes against interpretation. Trying to quantify art as a collection of logical pieces carefully put together to make a picture denies art the simple ability “to be”. Interpretation stifles the emotional response to a painting, and thus, real art makes us nervous because it gives us an emotional reaction, which we are not used to. The act of interpretation of art is like the person in the horror movie who breaks everything down step-by-step, saying “Oh you can totally see the wires on that thrown machete”,  “That blood is just corn syrup and red food dye—it’s so fake”, or “The murderer is clearly the creepy janitor whose son died there years before”. They’re the people who need to rationalize and dissect every part of the horror movie in order to protect themselves from getting scared, like how we’re less scared of the mighty Wizard of Oz after we start paying attention to the man behind the curtain. The fear of the floating head is exciting, and frightening—the little man from Kansas moving levers is not. That need to inject reason into every situation leads to the rejection of the emotional response in favor of the safer, intellectual route, which leads to a denial of what Sontag describes as the true experience of art—one that is confusing and possibly scary, but worthwhile.


I suppose I could do many activities with Sontag’s ideas in mind. She would probably want me to go to an art gallery and cry at the sheer majesty, frankly. Which I definitely could do, and maybe have my first experience with Deep Play. She probably would also be in favor of me writing a posthumous letter to Barnes about all the ways in which he was wrong about art interpretation, although that’s less of a trip and more of an activity.

I think the best activity, however, would be to go into the city and made a piece of art. Draw a building. Make a sculpture. Take photos. Make art, connect with it, and think about how it could absurdly be interpreted. It would be best to sit in the city, pay attention to what’s happening in the present as opposed to what’s going to happen next, and more or less try to capture the soul of the city in a piece of art.


pbernal's picture

Against Interpretation Response

I have mixed feelings about Sontag's essay to the point where I don't know what to believe. Yes, I understand that when we spend more time trying to interpret and find meaning, we actually lose the purpose and reality of whatever it is we're interpreting, whether it be art or music. That at times we make up so much nonsense and say bullshit to something so simple that could have been expressed in a couple of words or less. And much of it is like Sontag mentions, "plucking a set of elements" bit by bit.

But interpretation can be a very helpful thing as well. Sontag says this out of spite but I find it quite inspiring; "Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art and the world." Where's the fun in just listening and watching without challenging the creator? If I wouldn't challenge the ideas or creations sorrounding me, then I would go nowhere. I wouldn't learn outside of my perceptions and that quite frankly is boring.

Thinking too much burns out the bulb, I get it, but without thoughts circulating throught, there wouldn't be light to light the bulb in the first place. 

For my first trip into Play in the City take 2, I would choose to take them to The Schuylkill Center. I'd make the class sit alone, each student designated in a particular place with a journal and a pen. I'd take away their cellphones and any distracting device, including cameras and watches. I'd leave them with only two instructions. One, don't move from your designated area and two, don't talk to anyone else or try looking for anyone else. I'd give them no further information...leave them to interpret their own meaning of their solo away from distractions. We'd be alone with only our thoughts and our environment. To perceive and interpret our sorroundings far from influence. 

clarsen's picture

Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens

The experience Sontag strongly promotes in her essay of one without judgment or over explanation is one I had in our “Magic Gardens” visit.  I had few expectations and knew little about the garden prior to the visit and did not feel the need to interpret but rather simply naturally experience and enjoy it.  For a self-assigned trip, I would seek out a similar place like Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens.  From the pictures I’ve seen online, the gardens look like a perfect place to relax and reflect without the need to analyze.  

playcity23's picture

My Response to Sontag

Sontag's essay was annoyingly hard to follow. If I was a prof. grading on style (not content) it would be lucky to get above a 2.0. That being said, one of her assertions stuck with me. She says "The effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities." (I had to look up what effusion meant) So, wait what? Is she saying that we aren't supposed to be interpreting art or literarture? I would argue that's what makes literature and art art. That it can be seen from so many different angles. It doesn't poison us, it enlargens our minds. Sure it might taint the original work, but it doesn't lose its value because of it. 

I'm also seeing that I didn't post earlier about what my trip into the city was like (sorry Anne). I originally intended to take the one o-clock train into Philly but I lost track of time talking to my folks. So I ended up going an hour later and revelling in the political institution that is Macy's. I had a moment with the big 'Murican eagle in the center of the store. Then I had another moment with the big light show Christmas tree thingy. I think I'll always be blown away by how consumer-oriented the US is. It still blows my mind that you can shop for anything besides gas and coffee on a Sunday. 

After quitting Anne's place, my Esem comrade/hallmate/good friend and I rooted through Marshall's for good stuff. Then we went to the Christmas market in the Love park and stroked pretty decorative paper made by a Nepalese woman who seemed like she was making up prices as she went along. We had a hassle/adventure trying to get back home because the SEPTA we wanted to take was an hour late. We ended up taking the NHSL instead of exploring Suburban because we were exhausted. 

As for Play in the City 2.0, I would go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to test out Sontag's claims. I would sit in a reasonably quiet gallery and drink in the paintings without going deeper than face value. Then I would go into another gallery and do the opposite: interpret to the max and try to look at the paintings from two different lenses (i.e historian and a psychologist). Then, I would go sit in the museum café and read Memoirs of a Geisha or something equally riveting for an hour (do something that takes one's mind completely off the paintings). After the hour is up, I would go back into the two same galleries and interpret the gallery I first only looked at face value (and vice versa for the other). Record and reflect on findings. Look for discrepancies. Report back to class on Tuesday. 

Student 24's picture


What bothers me is that Sontag's essay is written as if we – or, rather, I since I am the one reading this essay... Okay. Start again. What bothers me about this essay is that it is written as if I, along with the other readers, were all audience and no artist. As if audience and artist were two separate groups of people and neither took part in the activity of the other. As if creation-and-production and observation-and-interpretation existed independently in separate bodies of people.

So here I am just refusing the binary of audience versus artist, in Sontag's accusatory rant to the audience about not giving art the full attention it deserves because the audience simply jumps to interpretation, skipping appreciation for the elements that compose the artwork. First of all, that’s a silly thing about which to get upset. I’m a musician and countless times I’ve performed many of my own songs, lyrics, melodies, piano solos, etc. I’ve received comments and remarks from people, and I don’t know if it’s a wide range of responses, but here are a few: “I just wanna marry your voice,” “You have a really sexy voice,” “I didn’t know you could sing!” “I’m so impressed,” “Wow, you’re so good,” and other ultimately useless nonsense. I used to get upset that all my feedback was about my voice and my singing. Or just the fact that I could sing. Or that people liked it. Where was the attention to my lyrics? My poetry? My story? My words? Where was someone who wanted to make sense and make a story out of what I just sang to them? Instead, I was getting impressions of pleasure and enjoyment as a result of my performance.

I now know that my lyrics aren’t very accessible for interpretation. That’s for a few reasons. I’m not particularly articulate when I sing and I also have really convoluted imagery in my lyrics that usually don’t even make sense to me until I sit down and dissect them to form some sort of interpretation. That interpretation then becomes the message for my song. The message is what I believe myself to be projecting.

I want to move people with my music, and I know that I have to put the work into my songs to make that happen, rather than sit around and pout that people don’t appreciate my music. That’s useless. If I want something, I’m going to have to work to get it, and not be upset and make absurd demands. If people want to interpret, they’re going to interpret. If people want to enjoy, they’re going to enjoy. If not, that’s life!

And this is coming from someone who is both audience and artist. I enjoy dissecting some art and figuring out what it’s about; other art, I’ll allow it to make an impression on me; and other art, I’ll ignore or pass, because I personally don’t feel a reason to spend time with it.

 Not all art is successful. And that success really depends on the interaction between the artist and the audience. But then you have to remember that many members of the audience are artists and all artists are members of some audience.

I understand this essay isn’t organised at all right now, and I’m just rambling about ideas coming to my head, but there’s one thing I want to bring in. Remixes of songs.

I currently listen to a lot of electronic music, dubstep, glitch-hop, trap, and a lot of tracks in these genres use samples from or are remixes of other songs. Right as I write this I’m listening to a remix of a Doors song, and the track’s genre is called ghetto-funk, which is this glitchy, funky, and really energetic genre. I love it. I love remixes and I especially love glitchiness in vocal samples. I recently made a track ( after listening to a Doors song (not the same one) and I played around a lot with making it glitchy using my own vocal samples. It’s all a cappella and has a lot of filters and effects and distortion and all that jazz, and my point basically is that I love this style of music making. Processing, reprocessing, cutting up, dissecting and reconstructing. Much like making mosaics. Then breaking them and making them again.

So, back to remixing. Artists and musicians who make remixes are, in my opinion, the perfect example of artist and audience in one. And not just any audience, but a highly attentive audience. A remix-er has to break down the original track into its several elements and then take those elements and construct a new track from them. A successful remix can have many dimensions: 1. Highlighting successful and characteristic elements of the original track, 2. Bringing to light (‘light’) elements that aren’t prominent in the original and effectively creating a new perspective or point of focus when going back to the original, 3. Expressing the remix-er’s own individual style and ‘voice’ in the remix track, 4. Adding or recreating the track to produce a new platform for interpretation.

Here’s the thing. An audience is selective. An audience has free will. And audience can do whatever the hell it wants to a piece of art. That all depends on what the artist evokes from the audience. A remix-er can choose to remix one song, ignore the next, interpret another, and straight up cover the next. Honestly there shouldn’t be any direction into dealing with anything in art. We all have free will. If the artist has a problem with what the audience is doing or not doing in response to their art, then please, be my guest, they can make use of their free will and do something about it.

(This is long enough already, but I could also go into the market and industry for art, photography, and music. And economically how the industry needs an audience to react in order to function. But I’m not going to go into developing those thoughts now.)

Grace Zhou's picture


    When I read Susan’s work, I started to think about the way we interpret the arts in Barnes- let all come to you. Not swamped into the content of the art, we welcome the ideas naturally aroused by the art. Without interpretation, it’s the first true impression directly come to us from the arts. I agree with Susan that to interpret is to “turn the world into this world.” “The world” is the true thing itself, “this world” is created by people’s interpretation. For me, the interpretation is a limit. People are chained in a small world that they try to see an art through what those experts and criticism interpreted. Many times, I am afraid to have any idea on an art because my thoughts seem to be innocent and shallow compared to those interpretation and analysis from experts. The deep interpretation makes one seem to be brilliant and insightful. It’s true that to some extent, the interpretation helps me to see what I can’t see and maybe can be inspiring. However, it deprives my own senses- I even can’t follow my own interests and beliefs.

    When we planned the trip to the city, we follow our curiosity and instinct in researching. By clicking the link our own senses lead us, we have the way to dig out what we really want to visit and explore. Also, there’s no need to limit oneself in interpretation when writing, we learned to write what we have come up with and follow our ideas naturally and freely. Unfortunately, the interpretation and the seemingly "latent content" behined have even outweighed the true art itself.

Samantha Plate's picture

Sontag and writing organically

It seems that Sontag's point was that we should experience things for what they are. She doesn't want us the try and pull content from them, but rather to hear, see, and feel. This relates to the tool of writing organically following what you are curious about. By ignoring how the content might be "meant" to be interpreted we can instead look at what seems important to us and from there we can write about that, as it appears to us.

My assignment for Play in the City II would be to go view a work of art, or a performance, or listen to a live piece of music or a book reading and write a stream of consciousness. There would be no analytical goal, you should just write what you are thinking, feeling, seeing, hearing as it happens. From there you can follow what you are curious about and examine it more closely in your essay. This follows the idea that we talked about in class that we should use Sontag's practice to experience, but our tools to analyze and write.

Anne Dalke's picture

Dear Mark,

here is the toolbox we assembled in class today while you were by the fire @ home.
As you can see, we couldn't make everything fit.
What have we omitted?

Seeking, as always, the certification of the expert,
Percy-ily yours,
Anne and the City Players


mlord's picture

Where's the "like" button.

This is awesome. It looks as if we've been really working hard this semester. Who knew that play could be this thoughtful?

Anne Dalke's picture

Responding to Sontag (and planning to go on playing in the city...!)

By midnight Wednesday, post a response to Sontag's essay,
by using one of tools from the "toolbox" we made visible on the board.

Also, imagine: you have been registered for an independent study, "Play in the City II."
Your first assignment is Sontag's essay. What excursion-or-activity will you assign yourself,
to put this theory into action? Please bring this plan to class with you.

Claire Romaine's picture

Mosaic Inception

Dialogue with Dead Men

The pages swim before my eyes
a jumble of letters
speaking for a man
long gone.

I demand for him to talk
to tell me what he thought
but his speech is slurred
and his mind is elsewhere.
He sits across the table
and already fleeing
back to his half-life
among the underlined words
and desecrated corpses


This post is a kind of mosaic within a mosaic within another mosaic (Hence the title).  Firstly it’s a mosaic because I wrote this poem a long time ago and I am now combining it with recent writing.  Secondly because I’m mixing poetry and prose and thirdly because a couple of the lines are things I remember my political theory teacher, which I then combined with my own writing.

Anyways, back to how this applies to Sontag’s essay.  This poem is a reflection and to a certain extent a complaint (like Sontag’s essay) about how we analyze and interpret authors without any idea as to what they truly intended to convey to us.  Yet, since we can no longer speak to them, we must try to interrogate them through the writing they left behind.  Sontag would say that there is no reason to try to derive meaning from their work, while I focused on how our interpretations are by no means guaranteed to be loyal to the original author.  Sontag talked about change in interpretation over time, as well, when she said that the meanings we derive from a piece of art change to conform to our times and our own individual ideals.

Everglade's picture


Yes Amy, I am taking a photo of you! 么么哒

Cathy Zhou's picture

A Letter to Barnes

A Letter to Barnes

Dear Mr. Barnes,

I’m a Bryn Mawr student and our class visited your museum last month. I appreciate the difference your Barnes’ Foundation has made from other normal museums, but I have some doubts about the purpose of the museum you set up.

When I went in the museum, I felt the distinctive style you made. You filled the place with all the paintings crowded on the walls, and they do not even have any name tags nearby. I liked the style of building, which was later revealed as the reform of your own house. It’s an inviting place, with all the wood furniture and small rooms. I went to New York’s Museum of Modern Art twice and saw many of the world-known pieces there, but the place seems more like a tourist place than yours. Barnes Foundation did renew my impression for museums, and it’s also an art piece itself. I admire its inversion of former interpretation of art, but when I hear your idea, or critiques of former museums, that they are not presenting art in proper forms. And the purpose of setting up Barnes Foundation was to prevent your own collection to join one of those museums you disliked.

After the visit, I went to the website page of your museum and saw the quote from you: the museum is to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” It later turns out that your “appreciation of fine art” is different from previous discussions of famous art. It seems that you have a brand-new interpretation of art, where you put all the art pieces, famous with unknown, portraits of people with landscapes. Your point is likely to say that there should not be a formal definition of art and the paintings should be purely appreciated as what they are.

But while you claim that the former interpretation of art is wrong, how can you decide that your Barnes’ Foundation did the right way? Without the background, the life experiences of the painters, all the stories hidden inside the canvas, those paintings could not be interpreted in the way the original authors want it to be. I’m not trying to disrespect your museum, but when you intend to have the visitors read only the colors, the structures of the painting, or maybe you just want us to see the whole museum as an art piece, this action itself is pushing us to an interpretation you created. Your collections are marvelous pieces, they all creates their own meanings and are to be respected if possible. In fact, I spent half an hour with one of the paintings on your wall call giving thanks, and for most of the 30 minutes I was trying to reform a story in the painting.

In Bryn Mawr, we have Art History class just to study the meaning of arts when they are created. When you said art history is "stifles both self-expression and appreciation of art", have you thought about the reasons for having this course? We read in the Loss of the Creature that most tourists come to see a place with expectation, and Perci’s critique is that they should not come to a place prepared with former knowledge. That is mainly the same view as yours, that everything should be appreciated as what they are. But my question is that, when you purchase those pieces and display them as one of your “Barnes’ Collections”, you are prepared with the knowledge of art. You have your own criteria to determine which art is good and bad, and that is a similar thing to people come to the art with knowledge to the artists and background. You cannot draw a certain line between you and the other visitors, and there is also no clear line to determine which of you did right.

The Barnes, at this point, seems like a stubborn resistance for the tradition of art. You remind me of Marcel Duchamp, the other great artist who doubted the traditional art by challenging them with his sarcastic pieces. The difference between you, Mr. Barnes and Duchamp is that, he’s the one trying to bring new blood into the world of art, but you are just building burdens to prevent traditional museum from your ideal palace.

An open mind in art is very essential for interpretation, and is exactly what you need. Barnes Foundation is a great place, the whole atmosphere was very comfortable for our, or at least my short stay. But art can be appreciated in old forms too. If you view the outside museums as an excessive form of interpretation, your foundation can be seen as defective from others too.

Hope you make a change.


Cathy Zhou