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Marsden Hartley, American, 1887-1943. Indian Composition, 1914. Oil on canvas. Gift of Paul Rosenfeld.

Artful Dodger: Prof. Christenson

Today’s post comes from Deborah Steinberg, Class of 2014 and Art Center Intern.

Marsden Hartley, American, 1887-1943. Indian Composition, 1914. Oil on canvas. Gift of Paul Rosenfeld.

“I love art. I appreciate art. But I don’t want to know anything about it. I just want to appreciate it for what it is.” Lynn Christenson, Assistant Professor of Biology, took a very unusual approach to the Artful Dodger talk, beginning her presentation by telling us that she didn’t know anything about the artist who painted her chosen work. In addition, attendees were asked to view the piece in the same way Professor Christenson views ecosystems in her work: from a number of perspectives and positions.

We began in the lobby of the art museum, looking deep into the galleries at Marsden Hartley’s 1914 Indian Composition and commenting on the painting’s basic geometric shapes and vibrant colors. Next, we moved through one gallery space, closer to the painting, where we noticed more details and gathered more information. Finally, we took our seats directly in front of the painting, and discussed what we saw, without any indication of who the artist was or what his intentions were.

We talked about the icons embedded in the composition and what they meant to us. Over the course of the conversation even Professor Christenson noticed new things in the painting, such as the Native American heads up in the sky looking down on the foreground action, or how the pipe appears to be creating a vision for the chief at the bottom. We discussed the implications of these images and the possibility that the war imagery may have been related to Europe on the verge of World War I.

Professor Christenson left us with a challenge: to spend more time looking at art, both in museums and in our own homes. Why? Like a scientist analyzing ecosystems, it takes time to appreciate what we observe. Moreover, she emphasized the importance of approaching a piece of art without researching it first. We need take the opportunity to draw our own conclusions and observations, and then research the artist. With that, we’ll be more likely to remember and value our experience with art.

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