29 July, 2008

Every week we interns spend Mondays and Thursday afternoons talking with curators, taking field trips, etc. Yesterday we met the Curator of East Asian Art. She showed us three Japanese objects: a bowl for a tea ceremony, a writing box, and a scroll with silver cranes. I learned so much and was mesmerized by the Japanese aesthetic encapsulated in these three things. The curator, Felice, said that the participatory nature of Japanese art is what she loves so much; she finds it much harder to stand in awe in front of a huge painting than to handle a tea bowl or unroll a scroll. The Japanese make handling any of these objects an experience in itself, before you even begin to use them; they're all packaged in beautiful boxes tied with interesting knots, or wrapped in patterned fabrics that you unfold slowly...It's all about being involved in the moment, paying attention to and participating in every moment of unwrapping each object. Felice said she thinks the Japanese are so good at animation and film because they have the scroll experience: remembering what has been, attending to the present image, and also anticipating what is about to unfold.

Here is a [mediocre] photo of the box, made by Hon'ami Koetsu. Some of his works have been declared national treasures in Japan. This box is from the early 17th century, but when I first saw it I thought it looked shockingly modern - Art Deco, perhaps? It's lacquer on wood with mother-of-pearl inlay and lead. I wish this picture could give you a true sense of how beautiful it is. Inside there would have been brushes, ink, etc.
These and other decorative arts objects are so interesting to me because I think they show the remarkable instinct mankind has to embellish our surroundings, our everyday implements. A box doesn't need to be anything more than a bottom and a lid to do its job; but Koetsu wanted it to be beautiful to look at, too. Windows only need to be panes of glass to keep weather out and let light in; yet people loved using colors and shapes to build stories into them. A plate just needs to be large enough to contain food and have a rim one can grip; but we want it to have a pleasing pattern or illustration, as well. We love beauty, we love to create, and it is not enough that our creativity extend only to paintings, drawings, sculptures, or performance. We want to experience beauty in the objects we live with. I don't know why but I find that wonderful and intriguing.

22 July, 2008


Teaching is NEVER boring, that's for sure. Some days I have groups of up to 25, and other days no groups show up at all, for whatever reason! This morning, most of the scheduled groups didn't come so I finished writing a second lesson. It's about a beautiful ceiling from a Chinese temple; the carving is gorgeous, featuring a huge coiled dragon and clouds in the center. There is a lot of symbolism all over the room, so I think it will be fun to talk about with kids. The great thing about an education internship is that it keeps us in the galleries, looking, learning, and thinking about new ways to talk about what we see.

Sometimes kids have been here before and have already seen things we have planned to talk about. They usually spout out everything they remember ("That's by Picasso and it's called Three Musicians and he painted it about his friends and one of his friends was a monk and he died!") ...On these occasions, we interns feel rather usurped!

This summer I've been going by "Virginia"--initially this was in order to avoid the whole "Ginny/Jenny" confusion, but I've gotten used to it and really love it now. However, one day when I introduced myself to my tour group as "Miss Virginia," one of the chaperons asked me where my beauty pageant sash was. !!!!! Maybe I should go by my MIDDLE name!

I'm pretty sure that my favorite part of this museum is the Asian art wing...It's my favorite area to teach from, and my favorite to wander through when I have some free time. I learned recently that Korean art is a very young field, and there are only 3 curators of Korean art in the U.S. Maybe that's where all the jobs are ;) Speaking of jobs, no updates yet, but believe me, I'm working on it. Prayers for less anxiety on my part and positive news from any of the places I've applied would be worth gold. :)

09 July, 2008

It's been a while! Well, after four weeks of orientation and preparation, we finally began teaching groups of kids yesterday. It is so tiring, but unbelievably exciting and rewarding. So many of the kids are utterly precious. It feels like such a privilege to be an integral part of their museum experience...I hope that they will all have good experiences, and that they will come back. One little girl who came yesterday was wearing a flowy pink top and pink skirt, and told me proudly that she chose that outfit specifically for that day because she thought pink would be a good color for the art museum!

For our first week of teaching we are working in pairs. I have been partnered with Louise, and together we have been teaching kids about a Picasso painting, a Calder mobile, an Indian sculpture, and the Japanese teahouse. The kids ask a lot of questions, which is great, but some of them are surprisingly hard to answer on the fly, particularly those regarding nudity or religion...Two difficult things to speak objectively about. One child pointed at a [nude] statue of the goddess Diana and asked, "What kind of clothes is he wearing?" I was a bit baffled and found it odd to inform him that she was actually not wearing any clothes...Also, today a girl asked me if the Hindu god in the statue I was teaching about was a real person. I said that people who believe in the Hindu religion believe that he is a real person, and left it at that. We're not in Grantham anymore, Toto.

Here are a few photos from last week (preparing the classroom where we supervise the art projects after each tour) and today:

Zach building the "arch."


Cutting LOTS of paper...

Zach and Cassie and loads of kids!