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Play in the City 2013

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Anne Dalke's picture


Welcome to the on-line conversation for Play in the City, an Emily Balch Seminar offered in Fall 2013 @ Bryn Mawr College,  in which we are addressing the question of how we construct, experience, and learn in the act of play. How is play both structured by the environment in which it occurs, and how might it re-structure that space, unsettling and re-drawing the frame in which it is performed?

This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations.  Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE

nightowl's picture

And 2!

Sorry I had to upload them seperatly my computer is running slowly..

nightowl's picture

Photo 1!

Amy Ma's picture


Haha, Everglade, r u taking a picture of me? 么么哒!

Amy Ma's picture

Last Trip in Philly

I remember the very first time when I was in Philly, it was snowing very heavily, and I wrote that in my first paper for ESEM. I am very happy that the last trip ends in snow too. Starting with snow and ends with snow, that is lovely. I live in the south of China, I have seen snow in my hometown twice for eighteen years, and every time makes me scream. I didn't really have any plans for the last trip, so I ended up lingering around on the streets. I don't know why but snow gives me a feeling of warm. All is covered in white, and there are Christmas lights in many stores. It is like new year. I grabbed some snow and tried to make snow ball, but I didn't wear gloves, so I gave it up. I took a lot of photos till my hands were frozen. I would say it was really a tough walking, but I like it. When it snows, I always want to tell some one else it snows. It is snowing now:) 

Amy Ma's picture

Barnes Rewrite

 “Would you please turn on the light?” That’s what I first thought when looking at this painting, because the general appearance of this painting is very dark. The left side is darker than the right side, so dark that you can clearly see the tiny cracks on the painting due to it is very old. A woman is bending her back, drawing water from the urn. The light part on her apron makes her apron adds some three-dimension effect, and also makes it seem so heavy. The loose clothe and the creases on it make her clothes seem worn. The white cloth on her head covers her eyes, but it seems that she is looking at the bucket on the floor, tiredly. The light comes from the open door. There stands a woman, with something in her hand. I couldn’t see it clearly. I stepped back, tiptoed, stepped forward, and crouched: no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get what is in her hand. It seems long, probably a broom. There is a little child next to her. Her fingers are thick— she probably do a lot of chores every day. She looks like a servant, not hostess of a poor family, but servant, because the woman at the door dresses the same as her. Everything looks daily: the brooms, the buckets, even the women. Everything seems routine: the women may do it repeatedly, every day.

nightowl's picture

Would Barnes collect the new Barnes Foundation as a piece of artwork?

In order to read my experience of The Barnes Foundation as a piece of artwork through the lens of Barnes’s ideology, I can consider the time, access system, colors, architecture, people and artwork found in the building. I am thinking of what the space invites me to think as a piece of artwork in itself.           

Student 24's picture

"Is that like a musical symbol or something?" "Or something, yeah."

These are a few photos of my play in the snow by the St. Stephens Church.
Most are of the treble clef I traced, and then one is my stage name, "fenceless," signed in the snow.
I'm short and so I couldn't get a solid shot of the entire images, but they should be relatively recognisable.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Phoenix's picture

The Artist Barnes



Play in the City 027

Monday, December 9th, 2013

The Artist Barnes

Everybody in Philadelphia seems to have heard of the Barnes Foundation. It created quite a stir when it was moved, expressly against the wishes of its founder, from Lower Merion to Philadelphia, turning in the process from an educational institution to an art museum.

Albert Barnes had a specific vision for his art. He arranged it in his home, paintings, pieces of metalwork, furniture and more, according to design themes such as shape and color. He made his home into a school, a place to study art without what he considered the useless factoids of artist, date, and stylistic period, taking from art only what it presented to the viewer. He did not want it open to the public for more than a couple of days a week, nor used for parties, galas, and the like.

Due to corruption, personal grievances, and mismanagement of money, the Barnes is now open to the public every day, with spaces for events, and even pamphlets and audio tours that tell the visitor about the paintings. The only remaining vestige of Barnes’ original vision is the arrangement of the paintings. Curators of the Barnes insisted that they would stay true to Barnes’ displays, possibly in an attempt to please outraged protestors.

Why Barnes’ displays, and not his limitations on who viewed them, how, and where? Was the art arrangement so much more important than anything else?

Student 24's picture

Authority of the Risk-Taker Extraordinaire

To regard Albert Barnes as a character is to reduce his life story into symbolically significant elements that represent his journey and his ultimate purpose. To do this, I will only focus on the main steps that led him to becoming the character by which he is known today. Because I am not treating Albert Barnes biographically as a real human who once existed in real life, it allows me to critically and analytically approach his actions as if they were symbols that express aspects of his personality and character. I feel more comfortable making speculations and exploring themes in his lifestyle if I state that I am not talking about a real person; it is less judgmental and less disrespectful this way. I can also make remarks that might perhaps appear outlandish in relation to the real person of Albert Barnes.

I will first outline the main events and actions of Albert Barnes’s life and then I will select a few to explore in detail. I hope to examine which elements hold stronger representation of his character in relation to what he ultimately intended to achieve (which, according to chronology and the linear plot I assuming this story to take, is the establishment of the Barnes Foundation). 

pbernal's picture

Art Museums: Do they enlighten or isolate individuals?

Jessica Bernal

ESEM- Play in the City


Art Museums: Do they enlighten or isolate individuals?

When I was younger, I never went to museums. My mother would say, “We don’t have time for that.” The first time I ever walked into a museum, The Museum of Natural Sciences, I was about nine years old and I thought this might be what Disney World is like too, huge and overwhelming. Growing up, we didn’t have the money or the time to wander through museum’s unique collections. As I got older, I kept going to more and more different types of museums through school, but to this day, never have I been with my mother. As she’d say, Yo no le entiendo a esas cosas, I don’t understand those types of places.  

It’s not that my mother doesn’t like art or find paintings interesting, it’s that she doesn’t feel comfortable in that type of environment museums provide. And unfortunately, it’s not just my mother who feels this way. Underprivileged individuals don’t find themselves pursuing Art Museums, or museums in general as a means of enjoyment and entertainment for a family weekend. Art Museums don’t cater to the underprivileged. Art museums isolate individuals in society rather than welcome them, which is the sole purpose of museums in general, to make accessible artifacts and collections to the people to explore and enjoy.

lksmith's picture

The Presentation of Art

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

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

Everglade's picture

Crashing the Iconoclast

In class discussion, we all seemed to consider the move of Barnes Foundation a failure, because it defied Barnes’ intention. But after reading The Believing Game which asks us to “scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues”, I tried to believe that the move had some positive aspects as I re-read my trip.

The minimalistic architecture itself was beautiful. The cement exterior seemed hard and indifferent, but the glass and the shallow water made everything delicate and ephemeral. Before entering the gallery, we had to walk across a large empty space and go through ticket and bag and coat checking, which made me feel unwelcomed. Feeling the expensiveness in the air, I expected the inside display to be one painting per wall, so that the artworks could be given sacred majesty and be enshrined and worshiped.

On the contrary, paintings are placed close together, so close that, in order to keep them from fighting for space, they are separated by huge keys, carved fences, and spearheads. Now that the artworks exist in peace and harmony, they talk and dance with each other. Two pieces of the same painter share similarity or symmetry; a huge portrait of an elderly man surrounded by smaller portraits of children like an old man surrounded by his grandchildren; an ancient African painting looks like a 19th century work; a painting and a sculpture have astonishingly similar patterns.

Taylor Milne's picture

The Experience of Viewing Art

      Previous to visiting The Barnes Foundation, I viewed art through the lens of “Who painted this painting? Have I heard of them? Yes? Okay, it must be good then.” I have never taken a formal art class, nor spent a lot of time researching art beyond that of museum visits and the “art masterpiece” classes that I had in elementary school. I would generally base my opinion of a painting on how “valuable” it was deemed by others, not by if I genuinely enjoyed the painting. I was stripped of this superficial way of viewing art as I wandered through The Barnes Foundation. Without the massive white walls and plaques of a traditional museum persuading me to create an opinion, I was instead able to develop my own personal value of the art based purely on my enjoyment and emotional connections to the piece. Before visiting The Barnes Foundation I had never considered how the arrangement, surroundings, and environment that a piece of artwork is placed in affects the experience of the viewer. However, after spending time in the Foundation, I realized that the environment of a piece of artwork can have an extremely powerful influence on how it is experienced.

tflurry's picture

The Barnes, Revisited

The weekend of November 25th, I visited the Barnes foundation for the first time. While there, I enjoyed the art; travelling from room to room, watching the interplay and conversations between the pieces and the objects, studying how things reflected, contrasted, or contradicted each other. I’m sure Barnes would have approved of my attempt, no matter what he thought of the situations under which I was making it. Next, I sat in front of “Scout Attacked by a Tiger”, by Henri Rousseau, for thirty minutes. This, I think, Barnes would have objected to.

Mindy Lu's picture

The Chill

The Chill

I was walking along the street, my left hand laboriously holding the umbrella, my right hand checking the map in my cell phone, almost frozen in the cold wind. It was snowing heavily, which colored the city white. However, I was in no mood to enjoy the scenery of snow because when I finally arrived at the museum, I was out of energy and could not stop shivering.

Although the chill made me upset, when I went into The Barnes Foundation, I was not only surprised but also delighted—it was delicately decorated, and, the most important, warm! However, when I saw a painting on the wall (which I posted with this essay), I felt another kind of chill again, which was completely different from the chill I just suffered outside the museum. Thus, I became curious and sat down to observe it for at least half an hour.

playcity23's picture

Barnes Foundation Re-Write

When I think of graffiti, I don’t equate it with the same art I saw in the Barnes Foundation. In the eyes of the law, graffiti is a punishable offense. It is “writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” I believe if the word ‘illicitly’ is omitted from this definition, it would take on a whole new face. Whenever I go to a new city, I always make sure to look at the graffiti because it provides a very public window into the social, political, and economical climate of said city. It can almost be considered a form of propaganda. It is a way of communicating to the Man. There’s an excellent example of graffiti in my new favorite movie. In Catching Fire when Katniss and Peeta are on the train to the Capitol, Katniss’s mockingjay symbol flashes by as they enter a rebelling district. When the train slows, they see more graffiti vehemently declaring “The odds are never in our favor.” 

mmanzone's picture

The Price of Forgery

AnotherAbby and mmanzone proudly present: The Price of Forgery

Bold sections were written by AnotherAbby.

Italicized sections were written by mmanzone.

The sections were meant to be able to be read together as one or separately. Enjoy.

natschall's picture


Does the lens we look at a painting through change when it is in new surroundings?

I think that the surroundings of a painting can certainly change the lens it is looked through. Think, for example, of what you would value a painting at if you saw it in a dumpster outside versus if you saw it hanging in the Louvre. But, looking specifically at the Barnes Foundation after visiting, I found myself doubting whether the surroundings had really changed as much as people were complaining about in The Art of the Steal.

Barnes would have you believe that being in the city changed the paintings a lot, and that this is why he wanted the Foundation to stay where it was originally founded. But if the immediate surroundings of the painting are the same, such as they are now in the Barnes (the walls are kept the same, with everything exactly where it was--even the rooms are the exact dimensions as they were when the Foundation was in Merion), is being in a different city really a new lens? Or is it the same lens, but with maybe slightly different background thoughts going in?

Clairity's picture

Reading the Barnes Foundation: Deep Play and Critical Play

       Standing in front of all the paintings and artworks in the Barnes Foundation, I feel like everything has changed, entangled with the conflicts and issues of the move of Barnes Foundation. Being here is not as simple as appreciating renowned works by distinguished artists any more. A deeper meaning has been added to my presence... As I re-imagine my first experience in the Barnes Foundation after watching the movie, the Art of Steal, about the considerable disputes of Barnes' move to the center city of Philadelphia, and reading several articles regarding Barnes' background, I start to see different things and find that ignorance actually makes an art experience more enjoyable.

Muni's picture

looking at art through belief

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

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