The Senior Art Workshop, Photo II, and Photo III field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Posted by Colleen Sheehy on 11/27/2013

Students in front of the Met  

On Thursday, students from the above listed classes traveled to New York City to see specific exhibitions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The photography students went to see the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit, as well as other fine art in the museum. Cameron was an affluent English woman that came to photography late in life simply as a hobby. She soon fell in love with the medium and challenged herself, and at the time a very young technology, to create cutting edge portraiture. Her composition, content, and lighting style was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites whose ideas and styles were sweeping the art world of Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses an incredible collection of pre-Raphaelite work that serendipitously hangs right outside the Cameron exhibit hall. A luminous palette of bright colors characterizes these paintings. I had a fascinating exchange with several students regarding a gold cloth and veil in a painting. It truly looks like gold leaf but in actuality it is oil paint! I was gleeful to see students become awestruck. The Pre-Raphaelites were also concerned with subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature. They strove to transmit a message of artistic renewal and moral reform by imbuing their art with seriousness, sincerity, and truth to nature. After learning and experiencing these paintings, students were asked to view the Cameron exhibit.

The students noticed how her portraiture was close cropped (a style that would suit 2013, not 1860s). I tried to point out the intricate floral clothing, presence of nature, and biblical tableaux, how they echo the Pre-Raphaelite style. While in the galleries I doubted myself as a teacher. Were the kids getting it? Were they making connections? Did they see how Cameron was radical for her time? Then it happened! I asked a group of students, “Do you think Cameron changed the way we think of photography?” It took a minute but I did get a solid response that involved recall from photo I coursework and inference about contemporary photography. One student said that she made photography more of a fine art by mimicking the Pre-Raphaelites especially when scientists invented photography. (This is content from my lesson unit titled, “A history of photography: It’s evolution as an invention and accepted art form.”) Another student said that her work looks like it could be done today, although it was, “aged and cracked and stuff”. When I asked to explain how it looks like contemporary photography the student reminded me of a few photographers I had mentioned to students who were interested in fashion photography (Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, and Annie Leibovitz). In particular a student said the close crop of Picasso’s portrait by Penn looks like he styled it after Cameron. I knew that my students were absorbing the first hand experience of viewing and interpreting artwork. I knew they were indeed “getting it”!

Cameron Exhibit

After spending quality time with students in the photography exhibits, I went to catch up with Senior Art Workshop students in the American and Decorative Arts galleries. The class is an eclectic mix of students who range in levels of artistic experience. Each student said that they have seen stained glass, and didn’t seem that impressed about viewing it at the museum. Of course, they are all raring to make their own piece of a stained glass art in the classroom, but not necessarily willing to make connections from their art to the larger world. This is typical of early levels of artistic experiences, and I am accepting their entry level for this course. They are after all a group of seniors that are timidly trying out art some of them for the first time, and others not since freshman year of studio art. I am hopeful, especially after the museum experience, that students will see how they share feelings of wonder and appreciation of nature and light with artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John LeFarge.  

            In the American wing, student saw many examples of decorative art. I would give little history teasers to the students to peak their interests. For example, I pointed out the red iridescent glass used by Tiffany. I explained that gold is used to create the color. Tiffany invented the “favrile” glass that is iridescent internally and not painted on the surface like previous stained glass processes. They were oohing and aaahhing the artwork. I also made it a point that on the small detail the design motif was relatively simple. I hopefully drove home the point that a simple design that is repeated with skill can look quite impressive. I think the students were inspired and excited to get an opportunity to create their own artwork with Tiffany’s favrile glass.


Students at Met

Left to Right: Taylor Headrick, Emily Polvere, Taylor Heanue, and Kyle Weissleder
(looking at the amazing favrile tile mosaic column)