Usually one person from each group will research an artwork beforehand, while the other two or three participants will come in knowing pretty much nothing about it. This makes for pretty entertaining recordings. Sometimes one of us will come up with crazy ideas about the symbolism of a painting. We probably have way too much fun.
Anyway, usually we start off talking about what we see in the painting—the colors, objects, light etc. Then the person who’s done research on it will tell us the artist’s history, and eventually we will get to discuss our observations from the artwork. This just happens to be my favorite part. We will talk about things such as political movements of the specific era, how the artist’s disabilities affected and enhanced their works, the work’s similarities with Doctor Who and a slew of other fun stuff. It’s kind of crazy the things you can see in a painting once you know the background of the artist.
For the painting Untitled by Joan Mitchell, we were all really confused and could not come up with anything interesting to talk about. Then Casey told us that Joan had synesthesia, which means she saw shapes and movement when listening to music and associated different words with different colors. Learning this completely changed our look on the painting. We just went quiet for a moment and then an “ohhhhhhhhh” kind of sank through the room.
So the history of an artist has become pretty important to me when looking at a painting for the first time. Another thing I have learned is that group discussion of a painting can very much enhance your understanding of it.
Along the Shore by William Trost Richards, is one that we argued about for quite a while. Has the storm already passed or is it coming? I for one think that it has already passed, but after arguing about it for a while I can see the other point of view, and by having to argue my point (which forced me to look at it very closely) I noticed a million other things I would never have seen if I were not looking for evidence to support my claim.
Also, in a recording about Mayan Garden, by Miriam Schapiro, we analyzed so many details of the painting and came up with so many different ideas about it that I feel like I could write a thesis paper on it. (Not really, but you get the idea. On my own I probably would have just seen shapes in a pattern.)
All in all I’ve had a fabulous experience with this project. We’ve had an absolute ball! Hopefully the teen audio guide will be released sometime this fall. Keep a look-out for the release date, and remember that it is not just for teens!
Virginia Paschal, 15, is a member of Crystal Bridges’ Teen Council. She is a high school freshman in Rogers, AR.