Archive of Week Three Forum on Beauty--
Going to the Barnes, Reading Barnes: Our "Impressions"

Current Forum and Forum Archives

"Seeing is something which must be learned"
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 01/29/2005 09:08
Link to this Comment: 12298


what did you think of Albert Barnes saying that "seeing is something which must be learned, and not something which we all do as naturally as we breathe"? That his method of teaching aesthetic appreciation "reduces to a minimum the role of merely personal . . . preference"? That it offers "the scientific method," something "basically objective to replace . . . sentimentalism"?

This seems very different from the one strong commonality among all the things the students in my section wrote about this week: each beautiful object called up a relationship, an emotional attachment, a familiarity with something that was beloved (lots of moms. Made me smile!) Sentimental, indeed. . . .

So. . .

what was it like for you, going to the Barnes? In what ways did it intersect (or not) w/ what Barnes says? In what ways does Barnes intersect (or not) w/ Dewey, w/ Percy, w/ Elkins (last week's essayists. . . .)?

My Experience of The Barnes Foundation
Name: Alanna Albano (
Date: 01/29/2005 16:57
Link to this Comment: 12311

Going to the Barnes was absolutely wonderful...intoxicating...beautiful...breathtaking...I don't recall having ever seen so much fantastic art in one sitting. I purposely did not do any of the readings before going to see the Barnes, primarily to ensure that my viewing of the artwork would not be "tainted". I wanted to fully and freely experience the paintings and antiques just as they were, upon viewing them for the very first time.

I don't really cry in reaction to paintings (that is just how I am; I am by no means an art scholar:) However, I do recall that upon viewing a painting I liked or that grabbed my attention, I felt genuinely happy, and/or curious, mystified, creeped out, intrigued. I would study the painting from a distance, but I would also go up to it, as close as the black line on the floor would allow me, and try to focus on some details of the painting.

The Renoir paintings I of course liked. Paintings dated back to the renaissance and medieval periods were very attractive to me, and made me lean in for a closer look. There's just something about the older dates (1200-1600s) that makes me find those paintings more interesting, and more beautiful. I guess for me it is just knowing that there's a special long-ago period of history connected with the painting.

In some sense, I do agree with Barnes that "seeing is something which must be learned." Now that I've experienced the paintings for the first time, a priori, I feel that it would be greatly beneficial for me to go back and look at the paintings again, this time with a more constructive focus. Perhaps Barnes' art viewing method can help me to see beyond what lies at the mere surface of the painting, or help me to see the painting in a different way that I would not have on my own. Barnes' perspective on art seems friendly and approachable, as well as useful to those of us who are "non-art scholars." I feel that his way seems genuinely interested in enhancing the person's view of the art (unlike the art scholars and their methods, as mentioned by Elkins).

barnes trip
Name: Amy Martin (
Date: 01/29/2005 18:30
Link to this Comment: 12313

I found the Barnes trip to have alot of beauty in it, though it was quite overwhelming to say the least!

Much to Dewey and Barne's credit...I did feel an exhilaration in just experiencing the art and I realized that when there are cards noting the artist, title, date and some information about the painting I find some perverse inner pressure to read the card as if it would give me insight into a view that I wouldn't "see" unless I had read the information. The absense of all that info was very liberating to me...I also felt there was more of an element of discovery than in a museum's typical layout where rooms are organized chronologically or by artist. That is to say, I never knew what artist I would encounter where so I felt as if I discovered some piece's by artists whereas before I may have not even entered a room devoted to only them. Dewey's ideas about art as experience, and going to the Grand Canyon resonated with that notation- I just went and experienced it. As Barnes writes in "The Art in Painting" , "It is these deeper harmonies, frusturated by our life in a world so indifferent to our feelings, that art sets in vibration."(p.46)Particular paintings at the Barnes definitely connected to me on that wordless quality...I also wanted to open the question up to everyone about how the felt about the mix between the decorative arts and the paintings? I found myself ignoring most of the Amish ironwork to go straight to the paintings...Did anyone really respond to his emphasis between the objects and the works?
Also- Roger Kimball writes about how the audio tour is contrary to Barnes emphasis on just looking...yet so many people in the Barnes had those audio sets- What's up with that? I'm kinda frusturated that all of Barne's mandates have been thrown to the wind so recently...on the other hand, I guess you can only expect to control so much after you're dead.

Barnes trip
Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 01/29/2005 18:57
Link to this Comment: 12314

I found the works of art by Van Gogh the most overwhelmingly beautiful. They had a sense of life to them despite the fact that his style of painting is not as true to life as Renoir. I loved the bright background colors and the people's eyes. They seemed to be staring back.
I think that seeing must be learned in some respect. However, I feel that the whole world is a piece of art not just a piece of stone or oil on canvas. Humans have created art since the beginning of time, cave drawing where art. Some one had to have done it first, which leads me to think that there is a natural artist in us all. However, perhaps Barnes would not have considered this art. I felt he was rather condescending when he stated that Botticelli's images are merely beautiful but lack depth. I find his works inspiring, however, I feel that Modigliani, whom he seemed to love, lacks depth. His people seem to me at least to be lifeless and lack meaning. Furthermore they are in no way aestetically pleasing and almost anyone could mimic them and give off the same "feeling" that his did. Therefore I argue that the depth of a painting is in the eye of the beholder perhaps rather than in the painting. We have the power to give almost anything a meaning if we so choose.

Sooo much Renoir! :)
Name: Brittany (bpladek@bmc)
Date: 01/29/2005 23:06
Link to this Comment: 12317

I purposefully didn't do any of the Barnes readings before today, so here are my "untainted" impressions, a la Percy:

Mmm... wow. Absolutely wonderful. So many beautiful paintings packed so closely together---it was overwhelming. So overwhelming that I'm not entirely sure I approve of Barnes's layout. With some pieces, the juxtaposition really worked: for example, the two Renoir "peasant girls with baskets" facing eachother over a reclining nude in the main gallery, the room with a row of teeny-tiny medieval religious pictures, and one exhibit where a large metal arrow pointed downward at a painting of a kneeling woman, almost as if it were describing the motion she had just completed. In other places, though, the clustering/ordering of paintings distracted me. For example, putting that gorgeous Monet waterboat in a corner where it was tough to get a good look at the individual brushwork, sticking a lot of similarly-hued landscapes next to eachother, and just walls that were *too busy* in general. The one room on the upper floor full of just charcoal/pencil sketches was great, but seeing so many at once really detracted from how *amazing* some of them were, how good (for example) Degas was at capturing movement.

All of that notwithstanding... mmm, wow. :D My "notes" ended up being just a list of all the pictures I loved. It got long! My favorites included the Monet waterboat (of course, haha), Daumier's water-carrier, Guiraud's "Vue de Bordeaux" (so much fun picking out all the little details, like the single Italian flag amidst all the French ships and the rearing horse on the quay), that amazing Rubens with all the cherubs and angels flying/dancing in circles, and all those Renoir portraits/landscapes. I love that Barnes was a big fan of the French Impressionists (and Impressionism in general). Because. They. Rock.

One of the best things the Barnes did was teach me to *really* appreciate Renoir. I'd been sort of so-so about him before, but seeing some of his paintings up close showed me how warm and human his style really is. Prints just don't do him justice. The faces of his portraits glow, and his landscapes (which I'd always disliked for their "oversmooth" quality) are more like dreamscapes, ethereal and windswept. There was this one of an orchard facing an ocean, and you could just see these small white flecks--sails!--in the very background... amazing. And that enormous picture upstairs: "After the Concert"... :D

Yeah. So sum total, I really can't wait to go again.

Name: Brittany (again) ()
Date: 01/30/2005 19:30
Link to this Comment: 12343

Sorry, folks. I just read the articles and I just had to add this.

On the controversy of moving the Barnes to Philly... I'm split, but I think I agree more with those who want to move the foundation. (All the writers in the packet would crucify me right here). Leaving that much beautiful artwork permanently in such an out-of-the-way place as Merion just feels wrong to me; it *does* seem, despite the denials of the authors in the packet, terribly elitist. Especially since Barnes was so keen on the idea that "democracy is not inimical to high culture" and "plain people, that is, men and women who make their livelihood by daily toil in shops, factories, schools, stores, and similar places, have free access to the sustenence that art offers." I don't see how moving the foundation (while keeping its interior structure/look intact) so that more people could enjoy it would betray that mission.

But then I'm torn, because Barnes specifically stipulated, in legal documentation, that no artworks should be removed/sold/moved/loaned, or the school itself moved. So technically, moving the Barnes is legally very dubious, and even if the lawyers manage to pick holes in Barnes's will, the move is still a nasty posthumous violation of one man's sincerest wish.

But it still feels wrong to me. Ack.

Re-Thinking Dewey
Name: Annabella (
Date: 01/30/2005 20:42
Link to this Comment: 12350

I loved the Barnes. I didn't think I would. Those things usually bore me. But the display as well as the artwork was wonderful. Recently I have been to the Getty Museum, the Prado and now Barnes, and Barnes was my favorite by far. And to think it is in my own back yard!
In their literature I noticed that Dewey was an active participant in Barnes' life, and had to do with the education aspect of the Foundation.
I found this interesting bacause to me it gave me reason to give what Dewey says more consideration. I had pretty much let him go as a just a man who lived in his head. But the way the Barnes thing is set up, it was more an experience than something I witnessed like the other museums.
I am actually considering re-reading some of the Dewey works and making an attempt to more fully understand what he was trying to convey.
No promises, though. :)

barnes and readings
Name: Marissa Patterson (
Date: 01/30/2005 20:48
Link to this Comment: 12351

wow, the Barnes Foundation was incredible! I loved being able to wander around the rooms and not have to follow any sort of audio-guided path. I really grew to love Renior through this, as I believe Amy said, because his paintings just seemed to stick out to me. It was amazing how they could be realistic while sort of hazy, as if in a dream. I also really enjoyed Cezanne, and I liked that often his paintings were put near Reniors. I think I was drawn to the light in the paintings, the brightness, which was also present in Seurat's paintings, one of which literally took my breath away (the sea with the boats).
I found myself really not enjoying many of the darker paintings, full of shadow and dark colors. I think that perhaps their being so close to paintings full of light they became less pleasureable. It was the same with Van Gogh, who I usually really enjoy, but it seemed like the placement of the paintings detracted from their beauty, making them seem too harsh or bold.
I also was a little turned off by the man who was constantly running through the rooms telling people to back away from the paintings. This doesnt seem to be as obvious in larger museums. I dont know if it is because they usually have more security guards or what, but it seemed as if every room I was in he was either in asking someone to move or running through.
Also I found it interesting that often there would be a room with a sort of theme, like medieval art or the black and white sketches, but there would be a few paintings that did not fit in in any way I could see. I am sure that Barnes had his reasoning for positioning them with the rest, but it was not obvious to me.
I can't wait to go back, and I am hoping to take my mom when she comes to pick me up at the end of the year. This is something I want to share with everyone I know.
I found the readings quite interesting. After learning about the move to Philadelphia and the deliberate ignoring of Barnes wishes, I almost feel bad about liking the move and for buying a color print, which Barnes disagreed with. I do understand his desire for things to stay in their place, just as he wanted them, and I feel that we should honor his wishes. However, he also wanted his art to be available to common people, and its current location does not really allow for that. I understand the reasons for the move and for the tour of the artwork, but I also feel sad for Barnes, for his wishes are not being followed.
I also really enjoyed Dewey's first chapter about experiences. He spoke about a "storm that seemed, in its fury, as it was experienced, to sum up in itself all that a storm can be" (36) and then, speaking of experience, that "the existance of this unity is constituted by a single quality that pervades the entire experience" (37). These examples of a "true" storm and a single quality to fit in quite well what I have been discussing in my philosophy class, and it was interesting to see some of the same ideas brought up in a different perspective.
I can't wait to go back to the Barnes later this year!

Barnes Trip #1
Name: Muska (
Date: 01/30/2005 22:14
Link to this Comment: 12357

My experience at the Barnes was much like my experience at other art museums--I felt a peculiar disattachment to the art pieces that I saw.

What was particularly interesting to me was when I stood in front of one of Picasso's "Blue Period" paintings. In high school I always had a free period and would spend my time wandering around the library. I would always stop in the art aisle and take down a book of Picasso's paintings. Something about his "Blue Period" paintings mesmerized me. I could stare at one painting for the entire period and completely lose track of time. I always thought that if I ever saw one of his "Blue Period" paintings in person, I would be moved to tears.

But when I was at the Barnes, I immediately recognized one of the paintings as one of the pictures I used to stare at during my free period in high school. For some reason, it didn't feel the same to me. I didn't feel any emotion when I saw the painting.

For the entire bus ride back to Bryn Mawr, I kept wondering why I felt a closer connection to the Picasso painting when it was merely reprinted in a book in the library.

I came to the conclusion that it had to do with closeness and intimacy. In the library I was able to hold the book in my lap and trace the outlines of the brushstrokes with my fingers. I was able to hold the book up really close to my face and look at the intricate details. Even if it was just a reprint, I felt closer to it.

At the museum I felt rigid and distant from the painting. I had to keep a safe distance away from all the art pieces, and even when the tip of my shoe went beyond the designated line on the floor, one of the museum workers sprinted from across the room and asked me to take a step back.

It just wasn't the same.

Dewey's experiance at the Barnes
Name: Malorie (
Date: 01/30/2005 22:34
Link to this Comment: 12360

Unfortunately, I was unable to go to the Barnes because I came down with something. But here are some of my impressions from the reading as well as from what other people have said.

From what I’ve read, and what I know, Dewey and Barnes share similar ideas. Dewey asks the question “Who defines what art is?” and in some way I think that Barnes is able to get past that. Although he did create a museum and chose what pieces were in there, to my understanding, he places all the art work in a montage that has no order or signs. In this way the onlooker can see the art and have an independent experience and decide for themselves wither or not it is beautiful. This way, the onlooker doesn’t see a Van Gogh piece and say “Oh, this is Van Gogh , it is beautiful” instead they can say, “This is beautiful, I love the colors”. From this experience, you can learn what you like and what you think is beautiful. Also, you can learn what aspects of a painting are beautiful, if you encouraged by a teacher or other person to explain why you think it is beautiful. I don’t know how to analyze art, but I know I find Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” beautiful because of the swirls of color and the way the sky stands out. What I think the Barnes does, correct me if I’m wrong, is give you the Dewey experience that you can then take with you back to the classroom giving you both you’re interpretations as well as what the book says.

Barnes 1
Name: Rachel Usala (
Date: 01/30/2005 23:01
Link to this Comment: 12363

Going to the Barnes I tried to be unattached to the paintings, to see each work as the artist would like Barnes suggested. I tried not associate the scenes to my own experiences.
That was a mistake. I only related to the paintings if I could associate them to something in my own life. For example, I kept being drawn to the Renoir paintings of the little girls, particularly of the paired little girls. There is a picture in my home of two girls playing in a garden together. I think I was drawn to the Renoirs because it reminded me of that beloved picture in my own home. Also, I kept imagining the painting was of me and my sister, Claire with blonde hair and me as the brunette.
This was a common theme throughout my interactions with the paintings. I was drawn to the Jean Hugo paintings because my paternal grandparents are Jean and Hugo. I was drawn to the Titian painting with the shepard because my ancestors were shepards in Sardinia. Some Cezanne paintings reminded me of Senior Row here at Bryn Mawr.
I agree with Muska that it was difficult to interact in the setting of the museum. The black tape kept me at a distant, and I didn't like anyone in the room while I was viewing the paintings. I would wait until the room was cleared to look at a painting. Somehow having someone in the same room was a violation of my interaction with the painters' messages. On one particular occasion I was looking at a painting of a monk kneeling before the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The painting struck me and I was moved. The experience was shattered however by a couple that stood beside me and applauded a Van Googh of a basket of fruit. I was really frustrated that I couldn't see the beauty in the Van Googh but saw it in the other painting. Was I wrong? Uncouth? I questioned myself and the experience was lost. I guess this is what Percy was talking about.
One thing that did surprise me was how quickly I learned to identify a painter's style. By the end of the 2 hours I was able to guess that a painting was an El Greco, a Van Googh, a Matisse, a Renoir, a Cezanne, or a Modiglicani before I even looked at the painter's name, even though I know nothing about art or the painters. It was enlightening to find each painter had a truly different message for me.
The objects on the wall were very interesting. I felt like the hinges on the wall were Barnes' way of expressing the spiritual connection he hoped we were having with the paintings. Or maybe he was trying to hint to us that the paintings on each wall were somehow related to each other. I felt a relationship for example between two Pippin paintings that were side by side. One was of the Virgin Mary with Jesus as an adult. The second was of a black family together at a table. The women in both pictures were in the same poise, and the paintings were similar in a way I can't describe. I think both were a "holy family" of some type?
I was extremely frustrated that I didn't know anything about the background of the paintings. I felt I could have related better to the paintings if I knew something about them. I'm glad I visited the Barnes however. It gives me something to strive for the next time I attend. I hope to know a little more about the paintings and Barnes' philosophy for studying art. I think it will enrich my experience.

Trip to the Barnes
Name: Rebecca Donatelli (
Date: 01/31/2005 01:06
Link to this Comment: 12372

When my alarm clock went off on Saturday morning at 9 my first reaction was not "Yes, I am going to the Barnes." However, I am so glad that I did because I thought it was wonderful. It is the first art exhibit that I have ever truly enjoyed. I didn't do the reading before I went because I just wanted to go and enjoy the paintings without having a million facts running through my head.
My favorite painting was "The Nursemaid" (I think by Milton Avery but I can't find my notes right now). When I looked at the painting I was a little bit unsure exactly of what I was seeing. There were two adults but what struck me was in the lower right hand corner there was a little girl in a pink coat who I found absolutely adorable. When reading the material by Barnes I understand what he means when he talks about the difference between being a painter and an artist. Avery did not simply paint that little girl he created her. When talking to my friends about the painting I talk about her as if she is actually person. When my friend walked through the door to that particular room the first thing I said was, "Look, she is so cute." In my opinion that is the most beautiful painting.
I am still a bit unclear as to exactly what the entire painting was of and one of my first reactions was to go and research it online. I thought that was interesting becuase it went along with what we were discussing in class about first looking at a picture and forming a personal untainted opinion and then finding out the artist's interpretation.

First Barnes Trip
Name: Beatrice (
Date: 01/31/2005 12:49
Link to this Comment: 12381

Maybe I'm just used to the layout of a typical museum, but, at the Barnes, I often found it to be very difficult to focus on any of the works. When I would try to really pay attention and understand a particular piece, if felt like all the other paintings on the wall were distracting me from truly having an "experience." I liked that there were no plaques on the walls, telling the story of the paintings. This would have allowed for me to understand the works on my own terms. Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case because I was easily distracted. Additionally, I felt that the lighting could have made my viewing experience better. I think another reason it was difficult for me to really throw myself into the moment as I viewed each painting is the fact that I felt I had to be very aware of where I was standing at all times in relation to whichever painting I was looking at. As Muska said, there was always a security person ready to tell you to take a step back. I sometimes felt like I needed to see a painting a little closer, but I knew better. It almost felt like I had to focus more on where I was standing than what I was seeing.

What I really did love, however, was that I found a true appreciation for the work of some artists with which I had previously been unfamiliar. I was not very drawn to the paintings by Renoir and other artists which I had known about since I was a child. It was the paintings by Daumier, Modigliani, and Soutine that really caught my eye. On a wall seemingly full of Renoir paintings, it was almost refreshing to see something new to me. Even Soutine's image of the skinned rabbit was beautiful in my eyes. Its colors and its boldness made it one of my favorites; I was unable to look away. As far as the paintings by Daumier, well, I found them beautiful because they are so dark and it seemed that his use of light is so very important. I just felt so caught up in them. Lastly, I know that Liz mentioned that Modigliani's works lacked depth and are "in no way aesthitically pleasing." I, however, consider them to be quite beautiful. I found myself searching each wall for yet another Modigliani. Perhaps I am drawn to the simplicity of his style. I found myself wondering why it is that some of his paintings have eyes, yet other do not. I agree with Liz when she says "depth is in the eye of the beholder."

The Barnes
Name: Alice (
Date: 01/31/2005 14:38
Link to this Comment: 12383

First of all, I really loved our trip to the Barnes. I love impressionist and post impressionist work. I wish we had had more time there because I wanted to be able to see the connections between the paintings that Barnes saw. I found it fascinating in that article about the Renoir painting of the little girl and the Cezanne of the older woman, and how those corresponded to the table and vase, etc. It is incredibly thought provoking and I just find this way of looking at paintings incredible.

This was my first trip to the Barnes, but I had been curious about it ever since I first heard about it from a family friend this past November. She had been telling me about the controversy in moving it to Philadelphia. I remember seeing signs around town that said "The Barnes Belongs in Merion." Up until my friend told me about it, I had not understood that sign. However, I am inclined to agree with it. Reading those articles about moving the Barnes really infuriated me. I think moving it defeats the purpose of the institution. I think some people just don't get it. The quote that really hit me was that it was never meant to be a public museum, but rather a school with art galleries, which allowed the public to view them. I don't see that as elitist at all; he set up those works in that building for a reason; it is meant to Trying to replicate that space in Philadelphia will cause it to lose what makes it so special. The grounds and the building are as important to the experience as the paintings themselves.

It was Barnes' private collection, so what gives the Philadelphia Museum of Art the right to make it public? I have nothing against public museums, in fact I really like the PMA, but there is a place for that and a place for an institution like the Barnes. I don't see how the trustees could be so willing to break Barnes' will. It seems more selfish to me to move the Barnes than to keep it where it is. It seems like it is being moved so that museum row can have another attraction to bring in revenue; that seems more selfish than having it in Merion, where people need to take a 30 minute train ride from the city to get to it. I think that the effort it takes to get on that train is well worth it when you get to experience the Barnes, in the place and atmosphere it was meant to be experienced.

Week 3 Barnes
Name: Mo Rhim ()
Date: 01/31/2005 14:56
Link to this Comment: 12385

I think that my gut reaction to Barnes is to disagree with him. The writing itself seems so cold and removed. At first I found his ideas to be too calculated and distant when art or the approciation of art and the esthetic experience seems to me to be a very personal and private experience that cannot be engineered and formulated to reach a desired end result. There is a part of me that wants to discount a lot of what he says, but there is also another part of me that is saying his method is simply more "rational" and that it should not be discounted simply because it is giving value to rational, well thought out responses. It links back to what I saw in Sharon's painting. Perhaps not all rational thought and procedure should be shoved aside as stifling or not understanding of the artistic/esthetic experience. Perhaps there are things to be learned and skills excercised rather than a simple flow of unharnessed and uncontrolled by intelligence as Barnes puts it.

In one way I think that reading Barnes before the trip and learning more about the technicalities and specifics about the art I saw would have enhanced my experience. To be honest, I have never really been much of an art appreciator. Art has never really impacted me or meant much to me. As I entered the museum I was unimpressed even though I recognized the names on the wall: Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso. I think that I have a problem with the way that the museums are set up not only physically but also in the minds of the viewers. The art is certainly removed from its audience-there is a black line and a security guard speed walking on a mission to catch stray toes over the line. The viewers are all silent, quietly and most of the time wordlessly tip toeing through the rooms giving just enough pause at each paiting, peering at it intently. Everything is still and there is this forced sense of reverance for these things on the walls. I felt silently scolded for lauging when I found a painting funny or for even chewing gum. I realize that there are simply certain socially accepted rituals and traditions that people follow but in reflection I find them silly at times. But it all seems so forced. Forced to be silent, forced to take time to really try and "see" something, forced to feel something. I was not moved by any of the art nor did I find many beautiful. I found some interesting, some funny, some painful, some "pretty." I did find one that I truly liked, but mostly because I thought that it was funny and that it was trying to shrug off the seriousness of art. It was a painting by Henri Rousseau and there was a image of three bears approaching one woman. The woman is simply shrugging her shoulders and looking upwards as if to say (at least to me) "Whatever." There was a nonchalance in the painting that I enjoyed.

I think that I may have enjoyed the art more if I was the only one in the museum. No guards. No people. No tape. Just me. I think that I felt very caged in teh museum and in the ritualistic way that I was supposed to art towards these paintings.

I don't know if I have offended anyone and I can assure you that was not my intention. If anything I feel ashamed because of my lack of appreciation, but then I feel angry because I have to feel ashamed. I think that in some ways, had I learned more about the artwork and more specifically the artist's life, then I would appreciate or understand the art more. I don't think that I will ever become a paiting appreciator to the core, but I also won't say that I have nothing left to learn.

Barnes: A Dying Breed
Name: Elizabeth (Liz) Newbury (enewbury at
Date: 01/31/2005 15:29
Link to this Comment: 12389

While I did not have the opportunity to attend the Barnes trip this weekend, here are my thoughts based on both the reading and research I have done about the Barnes museum.
Seizing opportunity where he found it, working his way up through brain power and through sheer luck, he not only left a lasting legacy for being a man who lived the American dream, but also a man who left the world a better place then when he found it. It is not often that millionaires will seek to surround themselves with beautiful objects and then share it with the world. But even Barnes went a step beyond that -- he is not simply sharing the artwork. If his goal was to simply share the artwork, then he would not have made such efforts to keep the gallery separate from any other institution, and preserved as he had left it. No, Barnes, through the organization of his exhibits, was truly striving to open the eyes of the general populace to a new way of looking at things.
When I first started reading about the exhibit, I'll confess that I was brushing it off. I mean, there are numerous private museums around the Washington D.C. area, where I grew up, that attempt to provide new ways of looking at artwork, such as the Phillips Collection. But after reading the article "Betraying a Legacy", I came to understand how far ahead of his time Barnes was. To group art not by the artist, to try to make it educational as well as interesting to the viewer, to utilize his private museum not for the purposes of boasting, but for the purposes of education and inspiring joy in art? Amazing. Simply amazing, and a way of organization that I have definitely seen used in other, more modern exhibits.
I love the concept of grouping the artwork by the common threads found in the art. While it's nice to compare and contrast the progression of an artist, or to contrast arts with similiar styles against each other -- I agree, it really doesn't make me look any harder at a painting. I'm more likely to skim a room that way. But based on what I've read and experienced elsewhere, I think the Barnes way of organization is stimulating. I like puzzles. I like mysterious. I would greatly enjoy trying to piece together the essence of each piece of artwork that provides the basis for commonality between them. In this way, like Dewey said, I can experience artwork; it will be a flow, a journey, as opposed to something I just witness and forget.

Barnes Trip and Readings
Name: Krystal (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:12
Link to this Comment: 12391

I really enjoyed the trip to the Barnes Foundation. I felt like it was one of the best trips I've ever taken to see pieces of art. I don't know if it was the set up or what that made it so different, but I left feeling more pleased with my experience than I have on past trips to art museums. I'm not really knowledgeable in the field of classical art so while I had heard of some of the names at Barnes and seen some of the works, most of the art was new to me. I found that I really liked Renoir's pieces and his use of color. I particularly liked his soft brush (?) pieces of the nude women in the forest. The colors were just so lust and made the scenes appear celestial. I also was intrigued by the Chinese works. The paper and the style of the art utilized was very capitivating and pleasing. I liked how there weren't details about the paintings other than the artist and time period for which it came. I feel that it really did allow for me to take my time and actually look at the pictures to try to make some sort of meaning of them. I thought it was interesting though that there was audio available during the tours as well as what looked like packages explaining the works (I'm not sure though because I just saw people looking at them from a distance). The presence of the gift shop also was distracting because I associate it, as well as the audio companion and brochures explaining artwork, with museums...places I thought that the Barnes Foundation was trying to seperate itself from.

It does make more sense now that I read some of the articles concerning the Barnes Foundation. Unfortunately it has been mismanaged and Barnes' dream is being destroyed. I was very disappointed when I read that the Foundation would be moving into Philadelphia. It seems like a real shame and that a lot of what makes the Barnes Foundation so appealing will be lost in the move. I really enjoyed reading some of the journalists' scathing remarks about the Trustee Board of the Foundation and other supporters of the move but I think I would have liked to read a full article by a person who agrees with the move.

I was also excited when I read Barnes' writings and found that he agreed with some of the points that I made in my paper. He, in a much more clear and effective way than I, pointed out the importance of the components of a piece coming together and how the knowledge can enhance beauty or the experience rather than take away from it. I was a little surprised, but very humored, at some of the harsh criticism Barnes had for certain artists. Overall, though, I was very impressed by Barnes' writings and ideas. I wasn't, however, impressed by the guy, Sozanski, who wrote the tiny blurb "Will these choices translate?" The bit made me laugh and was a nice little break from the heaviness of some of the earlier writing...but seriously...what was his point in writing those little paragraphs?!

Dewey and Barnes Reaction
Name: ()
Date: 01/31/2005 16:22
Link to this Comment: 12392

I was unable to attend the Barnes Foundation trip last Saturday, because unfortunately I'm a slave to my weekend job, hah. I especially wish that I was able to attend because after reading other people's postings about their experience at the foundation, it may change my feelings towards Barnes completely (or maybe not.)
Barnes stressed the importance of the language being conveyed to the viewer through the artist's piece, as he stressed that one must look into the art and try to focus out what the artist is trying to tell and/or teach him/her. His ideas of having the art displayed in non-chronological order without guided audio tours especially exemplifies his mission, no matter how much his critics may disagree with these methods. Hearing that the Barnes Foundation will be moved to Philly and made into a public museum therefore deeply saddens me, because Barnes had great, thoughtful intentions- I feel like the unique, raw experiences that one would have with the works of art in the foundation will now be lost if its format is to be altered- the beauty of the raw experience will be changed.

I love Dewey
Name: Catherine E. Davidson (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:30
Link to this Comment: 12393

Ok, I really appreciate Dewey's intellectual quality but struggle in making connections sometimes. So, please bear with me as I try to piece things together here...
First of all, yes I found the Barnes experience to be enjoyable. It was definitely different from the experiences I have had at other art galleries/museums. I agree with Barnes that we miss the whole point of a painting if we automatically assume it is a visual reproduction of a specific subject, or telling a certain story. The concept of arranging the paintings on the walls next to eachother so their content some how complements eachother is interesting although, as other people from class noted as well, it was very distracting. Dewey writes about recognition and perception. He defines recognition as making conscious connections from past knowledge to the present in effort to understand things. Dewey goes on to describe the idea of perception as expanding upon recognition. Perception requires the experiencer to "take in" and interact with the subject, as well as use past knowledge to "create his own experience". The way Barnes set up his gallery allows the observer to perceive. Instead of setting up plaques with the artist's name, short biography, and history of the painting, which gives the observer to recognize the painting and artist and a confirmation that what they had read the painting was about in a book, he provides the observer with the tools necessary to form an experience out of interacting with a painting. He encourages the viewers to examine a painting, use the works of art around it to supplement the content from the main painting, and put these things together, with prior knowledge to come up with his own feelings, form an opinion and thereby develop a perception and create an experience out of his interaction with a painting.
Hand in hand with Dewey's idea of perception is his idea of esthetic vs. artistic. These two ideas are very similar. The difference comes in the manner in which they are produced. Artistic and esthetic are both designed for "receptive perception" but artistic refers to the production of something and esthetic involves the person interaction with the artist's product. The Barnes gallery allows the artist and observer to interact with eachother through this esthetic quality. The artistic quality is formed through the production of the piece of art, whereby the artist creates the art to convey an idea, he/she provides a way of perceiving the world or an idea, and the esthetic quality overlaps with the artistic quality while the artist is trying to create a certain perception. It continues on when the observer experiences the painting and is possibly able to go through a similar thought process as the artist that made the painting, and to an extent have a similar perception to the artist. It is interesting how Dewey and Barnes compliment eachother in their philosophies.

Beauty at the Barnes
Name: Tanya Corder (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:45
Link to this Comment: 12394

I would like to begin my responding to Professor Dalke’s question regarding beauty for the deaf, blind, or sense-deficient. Because there is a general consensus that beauty is derived from the experience or connection with the piece, the deaf and the blind most definitely experience beauty. When a person lacks one sense, his or her other senses tend to be above average. Therefore, although they are limited to the ways they can experience beauty, I believe that their experiences with beauty are heightened because of their heightened senses. Also, Barnes said that “Every art inevitably loses some of the values of the real world, because stone, paint, sound, or words can each represent or indicate only a portion of our concrete experience.” This goes to show that most of the time experiencing beauty is limited onto certain senses anyways. So, in a way, those with all of their senses are limited as well.

I personally think Dewey is way to abstract and general. He seems never to get to the point and just elaborates excessively on meaningless tangents. In particular, the chapter about having an experience was, to me, way too metaphoric and general. His language seemed to contradict itself and hinder the readers understanding of his argument. An example is when he stated that “Experience is emotional but there are no separate things called emotions in it.” I had to keep reminding myself what his point was.

I felt so ignorant entering the Barnes. I had limited knowledge of the “museum” itself, but was more apprehensive because I had never been to a museum and can probably count the number of artists I am familiar with on one hand. Although I was intrigued and stimulated by a number of pieces, I found myself wanting to know more about the artist or the piece. This need for some background information made me think of Elkin. I thought maybe his desire to experience a fresh piece without being influenced by previous research may have been caused by his need for a change. I, on the other hand, had no experience with art history and wanted to research the information. I found myself copying names of paintings and artists that interested me so that I could look them up later. (By the end of the tour, I had three pages of names.) The secretary of the English department approached me several times and was trying to help me determine how the artist created a certain effect by examining the forms, brush strokes, etc. It was stimulating. After reading Barnes’ theories, I totally agree. I feel that one must fully examine a piece in order to completely absorb its aesthetics, but the piece must also have “‘decoration,’ the immediate agreeableness of certain sensations and arrangements of sensations,” to incite that desire to take a closer look.

P.S I agree with Marrissa about the security man reprimanding us for stepping over the lines. At times, I was just drawn into a piece (i.e. having a beautiful experience) that I didn’t realize I had crossed the line, and the man would interrupt and ruin my moment by telling me to back up.

Back to the Barnes
Name: Lauren Sweeney (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:47
Link to this Comment: 12395

I really enjoyed reading the comments of people for whom this was their first trip to the Barnes. It sort of put me back in my place. I have lived in the Philadelphia area my whole life and in highschool, my AP English teacher worked part-time as a dosant at the Barnes, so she arranged for us to go on field trips there ALL THE TIME. I literally think that I went there six times within my four years of highschool. It got to be a running joke at our school and I really think that it's a shame that I've become jaded about the place. I know that when I first went there as freshman I was completely in awe of the sheer value of all of those original paintings. To think that Dr. Barnes had enough money to privately fund the collection and the building of the gallery was absolutely amazing to me. As was the idea of commissioning Henri Matisse to create those paintings to fit perfectly into the vaulted ceilings of the main gallery. Who has that kind of money? And who chooses to spend that kind of money on art? My dad (a painter) would kill to know someone like that.

By my senior year, my classmates and I had had about all we could take of the Barnes Foundation and every time I saw a Renoir I just wanted to vomit, which I don't think is really fair. After a year of being away from the Barnes, this trip was more nostalgic than anything else. I felt that I really had a chance to try NOT to look at all of the Renoirs and instead discovered that I kept being attracted to Glackens's work, an artist I wouldn't have recognized before this past Saturday. I also wrote a paper on the Barnes Foundation for a history class last semester and kept thinking about all I had learned about the years of controversy that surrounded the place. I believe that the Barnes belongs in Merion and am upset that it is moving, but all of these factors were floating around in my subconcious and I really felt like I couldn't enjoy the art. I mean, I know that its beautiful, I just can't make myself learn anything from it by looking at it for a sustained period of time. I think I need a dosant; I want to learn about the art, but I want to know the stories behind it, I want someone to point out the flaws in the work and to tell me why something does or doesn't work visually. I can't be trusted to enjoy art on my own.

First Barnes Trip
Name: Alice Kaufman (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:48
Link to this Comment: 12396

Seeing the Barnes was incredible, if only for the fact that by the end of our two hours there, I could recognize works from different artists. (Pastel, soft women are all Renoir, realistic fruit and slightly choppy landscapes are often Cezanne. And that about sums up my art history knowledge. But there were so many others, and so many patterns in the way they painted; this one made his eyes just so, this one made his noses like that. Given my very limited background knowledge, I think I had a pretty ideal art experience from Percy’s standpoint, except from my previous knowledge of the foundation and the power of the words “French Impressionism.” I had not read the pieces by Barnes before going, but a friend had told me about the foundation and its art last year.

The Renoirs were all very beautiful, and I liked the way they were spaced between rooms. There was one room that was filled with them, without any harsh early German church iconography to break the peach cheeks and soft smiling women, and it was overwhelming. I think I’d need several more trips to appreciate the reasoning of having certain paintings next to each other. But each room, while it didn’t have an overt theme, seemed to be meant to be put together in that way. I wonder if Barnes’s extreme, almost distracting dedication to symmetry plays a more substantial role in the way he organized things; does every single room have a unifying style or painting influence, or were some put together simply because he had things that had to fit somewhere? That’s not very clearly put, but I don’t know how else to say it. I was surprised to see people with guided listening tours, after hearing them equated with intellectual land creative death in class. Free of these, I made my own opinion on art; I realised that I don’t care for Modigliani. After I “learn to see” from scholars like Barnes and Dewey, and I learn about whatever Modigliani was trying to convey, will I think they’re beautiful?

There was a certain painting, Woman by the Well, by Pippin, that I loved. Really, really loved. The tow people in the foreground reminded me of children’s illustrated bible pictures because of their clothing, and the simplicity of their faces. But the sky...Oh god, the almost hot pink sky. And the dark foliage that I could see leaves and details in only if I turned a certain way. It was so gorgeous. And in the last ten minutes of the trip, my friend went down to the gift shop. We debated what was greater sacrilege, the wastebaskets with the Masterpieces with a capital M on the sides, or the stuffed Degas ballerina dolls. (We decided on the trash cans, because Degas’s dancers are so iconic and overblown already.) Anyhow, my point: I found the Pippin painting on a postcard, and...I didn’t feel like crying then, but looking back I almost do. At the time I only felt extreme disgust and hatred. The great expansive canvas was shrunk to a ridiculous size. That’s typical enough for an art museum gift shop. But the colors were muted, perverted. My sky was greyish and dull, and the plants couldn’t even be made out. I always liked gift shops before.

I want to go back, and see the Pippin again, so that I can forget the whoring of things that inspire me.

barnes response
Name: eugenia (eebs) (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:49
Link to this Comment: 12397

i dont know about the rest of you, but for me, art is foreign territory. i know absolutely nothing about art. i have nothing against museums, really. but when im asked to think of art in terms of beauty, i dont know where to start.

i read barnes ahead of time, and the one thing that stood out for me was where he said "[it] does not imply that art is photographic, a mere registration of fact, or a reality that can be recognized by the untrained observer". when i first saw some of the nude paintings, i wondered "how do cankles, or disproportioned bodies symbolize beauty?" of course, at this time i was only thinking of art as a primitive method of photography, but then i realized the expressions within the brush strokes and the painting through the eyes of the artist- the artist painted what he considered beautiful.

i cant exactly say i thought every artwork was beautiful (to me): from what i saw, the artworks at the barnes could be categorized into two sections- realism and what appeared to be expressionism. most of the works categorized under realism had religious connotations to them. i particularly found "annunciation" by peter paul rubens beautiful. with 39 lifelike figures in the painting, i kept on thinking of how long it took rubens to paint it all. all of the figures were proportional and beautiful- everyone had symmetrical eyes and 5 digits on their hands and feet; nothing was blurred (unlike some of the other works). it scared me for a moment when i realized the motivation and dedication behind this work was all religion. religion must have played an immense role in the lives of everyone prior to the renaissance to drive an artist to put that much love and hardwork into a single painting.

i also noticed how some artworks seemed like they could be mass produced- their colorings were similar to those seen in a coloring book, not much depth in it. but then again, there were also paintings by chirico and van gogh- works that could never be copied no matter how hard one tried. there are just some things, the imagination or the strong/firm brush strokes that cannot be imitated in any way.

i can relate my experience at the barnes back to the "having an experience" chapter. our experience (or at least mine) is composed into an experience because of all the "extraneous interuptions" of thought, gut feelings, and my blindness in regards to art. it was all a very new experience to me and i must say i enjoyed looking at beauty from a different point of view- it wasnt everything i found beautiful, but it was beautiful to someone else and it made me think outside of my bubble during our time at the barnes.

Barnes #1
Name: Flora (
Date: 01/31/2005 16:52
Link to this Comment: 12398

I found myself completely captivated by the combination of art pieces in each room at the Barnes. Placing intricate, ancient ironwork next to oil paintings put both objects in a completely new, fascinating physical context. It made all the Cezanne’s and Renoir’s that I had seen reproduced in books so many times before, look new, but not just new, more beautiful and exciting. The collection is displayed in the very elite, traditional surroundings of a large mansion in a wealthy Main Line suburb, with amenities like coat rooms and gatekeepers. However, once inside the building, everything is so unexpected and not elite at all. For me, the actual building could be anywhere. That’s not important. What’s important is seeing (yes I really think I was seeing in Barnes’ sense of the word) a Monet hung above a particularly ornate chest of drawers. Or just seeing so many paintings together. The arrangement of the art pieces themselves is art. I saw so many connections in the Barnes that I would never see if all the paintings were behind glass, with scholarly blerbs neatly printed beside them.

It seems too late to bring back Barnes’ idea of a school. If it existed, I would certainly attend, but without him, it would be tough to reclaim his vision. But the idea of rearranging that collection from the building he intended for it, which literally has art painted on its walls, is sick. Glanton’s mismanagement aside, the horror story of the Johnson collection Kimball relates alone is to upsetting. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes are two separate things. I love them both, but I don’t think that just because they are different, one has to envelope the other. The Barnes is accessible to anyone who has the motivation to call, make reservations and take a train.

Exposure and Beauty
Name: kat mccormick (
Date: 01/31/2005 23:40
Link to this Comment: 12408

My thoughts on attending the Barnes Musem were largely occupied by the collection of female nudes- I had been thinking a lot about exposure anyway, because of the pay-per-article-of-clothing (aka Naked) party that I had helped to bounce the night before. The thing that really set me off was that no one had come to the naked party- out of a campus wide invitation, the party, at it's height, had perhaps thirty people. So, i wondered, is naked too little to ask? Or, more generally, what do people fear about exposure? And why do they also find it beautiful?

The only place where I've ever been or even heard of where a bunch of women hang out together naked is at Bryn Mawr in a certain fountain we all know. Yet this was the subject of so many paintings at the Barnes Museum- and while I thought this was beautiful, particularly because of that exposure and the skinnydipping associations I have with it, I also began to ponder the unreality of it all. Not only is it generally not done, it also illegal- And yet we find those Rembrandts to be a reflection of humanity and a cultural icon. I think something in us must crave exposure of self and other, as a basic part of human connection. Yet we also seem to fear it, or think that its wrong- why is that?

exposing what's inside
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 02/01/2005 12:58
Link to this Comment: 12418

I'm very interested in this question, too, Kat--though less about the exposure of flesh than the exposure of what's inside it. I see this so much w/ the web-posting requirements in my classes: students' fear of being out there, vs. your desire to be; not wanting to call attention to yourself, vs. wanting to be distinctive--yet hoping to be able to control the sorts of attention you attract from others. I wrote about some of this on the Education and Technology page on Serendip; there was also some good discussion around how these issues play out in the classroom @ the recent diversity conversation on Making Nice @ a Woman's College. And certainly there's much more for us to experience together and think about in that regard. (I'm remembering Arielle's posting about privacy invasion: I want to keep what I find beautiful to myself rather than share with ...the worldwide web.) I'd be interested in knowing, as we go along, how it feels to you all to be "thinking out loud" in the way we have been over the past two weeks...

Speaking of (and the rest of the world) can now find your first set of papers on-line. Enjoy!

And while we're all thinking together...

here's the announcement for the talk this Thursday afternoon which sounds as if it's covering just the territory we were traversing this morning:

Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore Psychology Departments,
The Haverford Distinguished Visitors Fund, and
The Center for Ethnicities, Communities and Social Policy

The Frank Murphy Distinguished University Professor of
Law and Psychology, University of Michigan Law School

Thursday, February 3, 2005 @ 4:30 p.m.
Haverford College, Sharpless Auditorium

Barnes Foundation Visit 1/29
Name: Kathryn McGinness (
Date: 02/01/2005 17:26
Link to this Comment: 12422

I enjoyed the trip to the Barnes Institute. Many of the paintings, particularly the older, medieval ones, were quite fascinating to behold (which probably sets me apart from the majority of the class, who likely preferred the countless Renoir projects and the like). However, I cannot say that I was moved in the way that Barnes/Dewey would have expected me to be. For one thing, I have very little experience with classical painting. But I also feel that maybe Barnes and Dewey were looking too much into these paintings by focusing so much on their form and esoteric qualities; being the neophyte that I am, I could not shake the belief that, despite how pretty many of the paintings were, they were just paintings. Also, while exploring the exhibit in its entirety, I could not escape the small yet nagging idea that I was somehow being told (possibly by Barnes himself) which paintings I was supposed to like. Maybe I'm the only one, but I personally hated most of the Renoir paintings. I did like his use of bright, cheery colors; but most of his paintings appeared to me to be of obese, ugly, freakish nude women, and I was actually a little bit scared of them (they looked monster-like in my eyes). On the other hand, I loved the Bosch painting (which certainly contained its share of disturbing images) and some of the very creepy medieval paintings because they were most likely intended to be disturbing. My favorite painting of all, however, was the very small, probably ignored by most, Glackens piece full of bright colors and Hindu characters (entitled "Orient" something or other). I got the feeling that, by enjoying these paintings most, I was not conforming to Barnes' ideas of what his visitors should enjoy.

Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 02/02/2005 07:53
Link to this Comment: 12431

As usual, the thinking I'm doing in one place bleeds over into another (yes, I have trouble w/ boundaries!): I brought to you all yesterday what I'd picked up in the Emergence Working Group last week; and last night I took to the Graduate Idea Forum what I learned from talking w/ you: thanks!

"aesthetic response lags behind"
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 02/02/2005 22:22
Link to this Comment: 12453

There was an article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education which reminded me of Elkins' and Barnes' critical dismissal of academic understanding; I share it tonight to "inspire" you in your selection of "beautiful texts" (reminder: 3 suggestions due in class tomorrow). The article described "The Grand Dame of Poetry Criticism," Helen Vendler, of whom it was said,

"she appears unwilling to step out of the habits of mind that work so well in scholarly endeavors...the scholarly impulse to analyse and historicize often comes first for Ms. Vendlar, while aesthetic response lags behind....she has a bias in favor of poetry...reflecting upon a situation....Much contemporary poetry rejects that model of the 'well-made verse,' however...I don't think she is able to read with enthusiasm or understanding poetry that doesn't resolve itself on the level of the sentence....The inability to value the collage element in poetry--the more adventurous and fragmentary kinds of writing--has a really disastrous effect....She has a much more of moral view of literature than I do, says [Marjoire Perloff]. The literature she likes...she likes because it dramatizes suffering and teaches you certain moral lessons....But the sheer pleasure of the text--the sheer joy in all the different values of literature, fiction or poetry--these are the greatest things. The more you can learn about it, the better."

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