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Reading the Barnes Foundation: Deep Play and Critical Play

Clairity's picture

       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.

       Personally, I'm glad that I didn't go to the Barnes knowing that it being in Philadelphia was the product of a political and financial conspiracy. I was able to walk in the exhibition rooms without guilt because I had no idea that the success of the conspiracy was the only reason I could be here and see all these treasure pieces. I spent time with the paintings that attracted me and didn't have to picture the scene when two parties each grabbed one side of the piece, nearly splitting it in half, and argued about whether it should stay in lower Merion or not. Sitting in front of the painting, ignorant of everything else except the painting, I got a sense of peace and fulfillment that I was unable to have in my daily routines. When I really let go of all the worries and trouble in life and was willing to stare at a piece of art for half an hour, I had a moment of deep play by delving into the world of Raoul Dufy and his six-meter boats. In an alternate reality, I experienced concentrated focus, high consciousness and realization, which are all key elements of deep play. Similarly, our class in Canaday Library with two pieces of artwork was intended for us to look at them without previous knowledge (including its artist, year or origin) about them. A lot of interesting opinions emerged from our observations and appreciation. It was a learning and creating experience for all of us. Therefore, in an art experience, ignorance sometimes encourages deep play and stimulates a feeling of gratification.

       However, I would not be able to understand the profundity and intention of Barnes if I was unaware of Dr. Barnes' special efforts of arranging the arts in his ensembles. Moreover, the addition of background knowledge about the move of Barnes Foundation provided me a new way of thinking. This time, I learned to look at it objectively, instead of subjectively. I wasn't trying to choose sides, but was viewing the situation from both parties, through an overall point of view. On one side, the move of Barnes was unfortunate. It was a disrespect and infringement of Dr. Barnes' will for his collections in various ways such as holding events and offering audio tours. The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has been turned into a museum, rather than an education institution that Dr. Barnes had always intended. On the other side, however, it was exposed to more people including me and my classmates. The move was not necessarily a bad thing, since more exposure of the collections could educate more people. With both of these viewpoints, if I were to go back to the Barnes, I would discover and explore things through critical play. Being able to question and think critically constitutes a critical play experience. In this case, having previous knowledge or background information also helps one to have an unbiased view regarding certain object and to better understand it.

       To sum up, it all depends on how one wants to perceive an art and what kind of experience they intend to have. Certain level of "ignorance" encourages deep play. And background knowledge provides one with an objective point of view thorough critical play. Either way of appreciating a piece of art is proper. Both ways could even be combined together, in order for one to have a more comprehensive and playful experience with the art piece. Viewing art is an adventure of serendipity and intuition. As long as one is open-minded, he/she will find his/her own pleasure and joy.