I’m an art history student, I live in Paris, and I love art. To some extent, my life revolves around it.
In case you were wondering, I am a student here in Paris. I’m taking five classes, all in French. Technically six, because I think the whole city is a classroom for me at this point in my language ability and cultural immersion. My study abroad program is through IES Abroad, a huge organization that has programs all across the world for American students. It doesn’t really make sense to Europeans, but they have their own little school here in Paris where I take four of my classes, my fifth at the Sorbonne (Paris I). I’m in a French language and cultural class which is a combination of grammar and reading articles pertinent to the culture here and discussing them. The discussion style of the professor isn’t great in my opinion but its an incredibly useful class and I’m learning a lot from it.
At IES I’m in two art history classes, one which looks at French art through the lens of institutions such as the Salon and museums. Its a fascinating way to revisit some artists I have studied, and learn about some new ones. I’ll be writing about Gauguin for my final paper, which I’m pretty stoked on after seeing an exhibit on him at the Seattle Art Museum last semester. The other class is incredible, it is called “From the Origins of Modern Art.” It is a study of the evolution of modern art by looking at African, Asian and Primitivist influences. Recently we’ve been discussing modernism in general and examining the oeuvre of Manet. We spent a long time analyzing Dejeuner sur l’herbe, which represents the brink of modernity through its manifestation of the subject crisis. Looking closely at the painting closely, the viewer sees that it is not really a picnic, it blends landscape, still life and portraiture, doesn’t have a theme from antiquity, and has light coming from more than one angle. Taking art history classes and having guides in museums is great because it reminds me how much more to paintings there is than meets the eye. It is easy to look at the aforementioned work and think thats its a simple scene of four people eating lunch. But looking between the strokes adds meaning, as well as considering the historical context, and that’s why I love art history.
That class only has six people in it so it is awesome. The IES classes are great because they are small, and since they are just for us non French-proficient Americans, the professors repeat things, speak slower and write a lot on the board. And of course, I prefer discussion based class. My class at the Sorbonne is the total opposite. For two hours a week, I sit in an auditorium with two or three hundred French kids who reek of cigarettes and listen to lectures on art and architecture of the middle ages, and histories of the Byzantine Empire. It is a super interesting class, and totally new for me, but it is also super difficult. The combination of the two sorts of classes is great for me, and I’ll take more Sorbonne classes next semester, but for now, it is a lot of swimming in rough current and focusing really hard to listen to the simultaneous quick speech and mumbling of the professor. My last class is also at IES, and is the Internship Seminar. They hooked me up with an internship, and addition to the 12 hours of work a week, I learn about work and education in France for the class.
On to the big news of my life, I’ve got the coolest internship at the world. First of all, I’m incredibly fortunate to have it, and second of all, I’m super stoked. I’m working at Galerie Maeght, a gallery on the chic Rue du Bac that is incredibly well known for its promotion of contemporary art for the last 70 years. Its a great way to be in the art world, speak French and learn about contemporary art. I do everything, from helping to set up exhibitions, hanging paintings in the main room, working with customers (in French and English), learning the huge inventory and all the artists, and a lot of framing. It is cool, because there is a ton of history to the gallery. Maugerite and Aimé Maeght opened a gallery in the 40’s, based on Aimé’s lithography experience and friendship with Bonnard and Matisse. He started a review of of contemporary art, and in the 60’s created a foundation in the South of France that is a place for Contemporary art to thrive without the confines of a museum. I’ll definitely take a trip down there at some point. We have an exhibition opening Thursday, so I’m pretty excited to figure out the gallery and really get into it.
Like I said, my life is surrounded by art. Last Monday I went to the Guimet, which is Paris’ Museum of Asian Art. As an art history student, I get to go to a lot of museums for class and all of them for free, so I can take lot of quick trips. The Guimet had a special exhibit on Japanese ukiyo-e (floating world woodprints) and a number of prints from Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. Seeing them up close was so incredible. Computer images don’t do his fine detail and technique justice, the series is so beautiful. I really love Asian art, and plan on going back to the museum so I can see the other exhibits in depth. Its a huge museums that covers 3000 years and the whole continent, from Laos to China.
Saturday, IES took us on a trip to Giverny, where Monet’s house and garden’s were. Its where he painted his famous water lilies. There was also a great museum there that traced the development from Romanticism to Impressionism and beyond. They had some great pieces, and obviously, some great Monet’s. In a few square centimeters, he used 18 colors, when it looks like two or three. Once again, it was incredible to see some great works in person. There was also many post-impressionist works, and some incredible examples of pointillism. After the museum we had a great lunch of smoked salmon, potatoes gratin and chicken, and of course, wine. We then went to the gardens, which were so beautiful. There were so many flowers, and the pond was gorgeous. I’ll let the pictures speak for the garden though.
That night was nuit blanche, a new Parisien tradition in its 11th year. It is a cultural celebration that lasts all night long. To pull an all-nighter in french is passer un nuit blanche. Pretty much, cultural institutions all over Paris are open late into the night, and there is music and dance, and art installations and people everywhere. We didn’t do enough research beforehand, but danced to a DJ at the Centre Pompidou and saw some of the modern art there. Other than, wandering the Seine and hearing the sounds and seeing the projections all over the place was enough, as it was spent with friends. Paris at night is a beauty to take in, with the bridges and museums lit up, the Eifel tower sparkling, and tout le monde tres contents.
Since that’s not quite enough art, I have four museum visits four class this week (read: field trips). I’m going to the Louvre, the Japan and Van Gogh exhibit at the Pinacotechque, l’Orangerie and l’Orsay again. And there’s the exhibition opening at the gallery. It is also my birthday on Friday, and a number of friends birthdays earlier in the week. I think it is a combination of being in a city, and being somewhere totally new, but I feel as if my life is jam-packed like never before. With new things to see and do every day, its hard to stop being super stoked all the time. Museums, birthday celebrations and homework here I come.