Thursday, September 28, 2017

Serving UGA Students Through Experiential Learning

Sarah Dotson in the Met galleries

Hi there. My name is Sarah, and I graduated from the University of Georgia last May. During my senior year, I interned at the Georgia Museum of Art in the publications department in order to evaluate whether or not a job in museum publishing would perfect for me – as a lover (and student) of both English and art history, it seemed to be ideal. As it turns out, it was. As the imminent approach of graduation put existential pressure on seniors across the country, I began applying for jobs, internships and other post-grad opportunities that would allow me to move to New York City and begin a career in the arts. 

Much to my excitement and surprise, I landed an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its publications department as part of the summer MuSe program. To apply, I wrote a few essays, provided both academic and occupational references, and interviewed with the people who would soon become my supervisors. I can say with absolute certainty that I have never felt more prepared or qualified for an interview in my life. It was almost surreal finishing an interview and knowing that I didn’t have to come up with irrelevant anecdotes out of thin air to illustrate relevant skills. I had concrete examples of the projects I had been involved in at the museum, and I knew the work I was doing was actually contributing to the progress of various museum publications. 

I sat with Hillary Brown, the director of communications and my supervisor at the Georgia Museum of Art, before my interview to prepare. It was immediately clear that, by trusting me with image acquisition work, blogging, writing press releases, transcribing interviews and updating the museum’s various calendars, the museum had given me the chance to develop many skills that would appeal to my interviewers. I felt challenged but always supported by Hillary as well as by staff in other departments during my time at the museum. 

My time at the museum taught me a tremendous amount…not just about museum publishing, but also about how a museum functions as a whole, office etiquette and which shoes echo the loudest in quiet galleries (Hint: the shoes you think will echo the loudest absolutely do. Heels, heavy boots and dress shoes.)

It is easy to say I built a strong foundation at the Georgia Museum of Art that will allow me to continue pursuing work in my three different areas of occupational interest: museums, publishing and the arts. I think that is one of the ways in which I feel my internship was most helpful – I left knowing that the skills I developed were transferrable between different fields. While understanding the ins-and-outs of how to acquire image rights to reproduce photographs of an artist’s work may be specific to a job in museum publishing, learning about interdepartmental communication, project management and writing for various audiences are skills that will be helpful throughout my career, wherever it takes me. I am reaping the benefits already as I shift from my summer in publishing at the Met to online art news publishing at a company called Artsy. I’ve approached both endeavors nervously but with tremendous excitement, knowing that my experience at the Georgia Museum of Art prepared me for both. 

It is almost impossible to list all of the many ways in which the year I spent at the Georgia Museum of Art helped me reach my ultimate post-grad goal. Above all, I left my internship there knowing that I had an incredible, supportive, intelligent, artistic community behind me cheering me on as I graduated college, moved across the country and started a new job. I am so thankful for everyone at the museum, for the integral role it plays in the Athens community and for all of the inspiring works it houses. I encourage and recommend students to take advantage of the many opportunities the museum offers during their time at UGA, from internships to Museum Mix and everything in between. 

Sarah Dotson (UGA '17)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Intuition and Intimacy: An Art Student Reflects on Drawing

William H. Johnson, "Musicmakers," 1926.

When I began to study art at the undergraduate level, I didn't know that drawing seems to be misunderstood by the general public as an area of art restricted to studies and incomplete ideas. I couldn’t comprehend why gestures made in graphite, charcoal or pastels didn’t command the same respect as those made in oil, acrylic or tempera. In my mind, drawing was always a separate but equal companion to painting. I realized that that idea was part of the modern era’s growing appreciation for a look into the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings, and things had not always been that way. 

Many drawings do maintain a documentary, eyewitness approach, which is why they have historically been viewed as studies, but by the turn of the 20th century, the popularity of drawing improved, and artists began to create with an understanding of the potential for public viewing. With artists’ acknowledging the public, it’s much easier to understand how highly polished and refined drawing can be seen as a substantial art form, but even solely functional studies offer as much intrigue and insight as the lauded masters’ paintings. 

When considering various qualities that make a work of art valuable to its viewers, drawings have the potential to be more accessible than painting and just as rewarding: how the elements of a drawing are arranged for compounded meaning, how its formal qualities inflect conceptual purpose, how it expresses sentiment and vulnerability, how its means and method influence the subject, how it inspires and amazes, how its textures and line-work satisfy the soul, how it gets at this bare-bones, core component of art that is sharing one’s life through intended visual experience. 

I’m not proposing that the drawings Edward Hopper did in preparation for "Nighthawks" (1942) deserve the same critical attention as the finished work, but they are just as fascinating to me, and the painting wouldn’t have been as successful without them. Dry media is highly conducive to spontaneous mark-making, so drawing can be a valuable tool for inquiry and exploration, discovery and innovation. 

In a relatively brief and recent span of art history, we have begun to value when striated marks and impulsive flicks of the wrist evince an artist's intuition because those marks heighten the intimacy one feels with the artist. The reason I decided to focus on drawing for my bachelor of fine arts degree (in progress at the Lamar Dodd School of Art) is because it allows raw ideas and emotions to flow quickly and easily. I saw it as an open-ended discipline in the contemporary art world ripe for exploration. 

Similarly inspired by the insightful “pictures of the artist’s mind and method, his or her sensibilit√°,” a young Giuliano Ceseri, living just outside Florence in the mid-20th century, was collecting art when he was only 14 years old, eventually pursuing his talents to become a gallerist. In 1995, he placed about 1,500 of those works on long-term loan to the Georgia Museum of Art, and although the collection is dominated by Renaissance-era drawings, the exhibition "Modern Masters from the Giuliano Ceseri Collection" shows works from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The collection shows the diverse ways artists use drawing in their practice, and it offers an opportunity to observe their discoveries and unique intuition by means of the raw expression present in their mark-making. One such work that encompasses the many ways drawings demand respect akin to painting is William H. Johnson’s "Musicmakers" (1926). Drawn in graphite on paper, it shows that the artist's primary goal was to work out the composition and lighting: the standing figures’ heads are cropped and the angles of the highlights dominate the eye’s movement. It’s easy to focus on the imperfections of the work, but inquisitive drawings have the potential to inspire and amaze even when they have technical flaws. Just look at that genius in the middle figure’s right shoe, the crook of that same man’s left arm, the guitar player’s nimble fingers – those 3-second impulses evince skill found only after a lifetime of practice. 

Many artists can craft a beautifully illusive drawing of a hand, but only a few can describe the essence of something so visually complex in the duration of an impulse. One of the things I love most about drawing is its immediacy and conduciveness for intuition, and graphite is particularly transparent and revealing. I can reasonably guess that Johnson first tackled the gestural line work with the bodies loosely arranged and the heads reduced to simple ovals. Then he selectively darkened the primary contours and gradually added value with directional marks, heightening the contrast as he continued. Last, he probably added in the detailed flourishes on the face, hands and wrinkled clothing. The contrast between the steady and diligent work on the faces and the rapid marks on the body is especially effective at guiding the eye. 

The highlight of the work for me is the woman’s dress, with its rhythmic folds that show the effortless sweeping motion of Johnson’s pencil. In it, you can see how the layers previously mentioned have been built up. The figures’ postures seem significant and purposeful, yet the empty spaces speak as much as the figures. Johnson’s use of space in his paintings is very block-like, but the spaces in the drawing are activated with texture. How might it affect our interpretation to see that the figures aren’t so two-dimensional? Whereas Johnson's paintings are reductive, with heightened symbolism, this elaborate drawing seems to say more about the artist than his subjects. 

We all have different tastes in art, so I charge you to consider what you value and appreciate most when perusing an exhibition, and then consider how drawings relate to those values. “Modern Masters from the Giuliano Ceseri Collection” is currently on display at the museum through November 12, so be sure to explore, discover, observe and reflect while you have the chance.

Ben Thrash
Intern, Communications

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Featured Publication: "Black Belt Color: Photographs by Jerry Siegel"

"Black Belt Color: Photographs by Jerry Siegel" is one of the newest books the museum has published. It accompanies a traveling exhibition of the same name for which we're trying to find venues (please let us know if you're interested in seeing the prospectus). The book focuses on the photography of Selma, Alabama, native Jerry Siegel, who has lived and worked in Atlanta for years but keeps returning to the place where he was born to document its places and people.

A couple of weeks ago, the Bitter Southerner and ArtsATL partnered to produce two great pieces on the book and on Siegel's work. The photo essay at the Bitter Southerner can be found here, if you missed it. Stephanie Dowda interviewed Siegel for ArtsATL here.

Our curator of American art Sarah Kate Gillespie selected the images for "Black Belt Color" and worked on creating some very deliberate pairings and groupings in the book, highlighting the narratives inherent in the images. Our director, William U. Eiland, who is from Sprott, Alabama, not far from Selma, wrote a fantastic essay for it, contextualizing Siegel's work. It also includes a transcription of a long interview with Siegel and a brief essay by the late Mary Ward Brown, a famed Alabama author and a close friend of Siegel's.
Watch the video below for another brief chat with Jerry Siegel, a look inside the book and some close-ups of some of the images it includes. Communications intern Jinsui Li created the video, and she did a great job.



"Black Belt Color: Photographs by Jerry Siegel" includes more than 60 color photographs, including seven fold-out panoramas. Hardcover; 123 pp.; $30 ISBN: 978-1-946657-00-8 You can order it by calling 706.542.0450 or online at the Museum Shop via UGA Marketplace and Amazon.com.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Art in Focus: A Brief Self-Guided Tour

An Art in Focus tour in action
Going through a museum can be intimidating. People fear that they might seem ignorant by misinterpreting a painting or worry that they lack the knowledge to appreciate a work of art. Even those who have studied art can feel lost among many works in a gallery. Monstrous canvases can engulf you. Intricately painted details can astound you. Vivid colors can overwhelm you. Docent-led tours are one way to experience art in a museum, but your schedule may not always fit with the ones we offer (every Wednesday at 2 p.m., plus one Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon a month). 
Another Art in Focus tour

To help, the Georgia Museum of Art’s education department has created a series of brief self-guided tours, called Art in Focus. Art in Focus tours are available printed on cards that visitors can pick up just outside the museum’s permanent collection galleries, on a long desk near the stained-glass window of St. George and the dragon. Each one focuses on a different topic, including African American artists, a director’s tour, women artists and a guide for kids. The education department chose these topics to highlight different collections at the museum and to introduce lesser known artists or works of art in a playful way. Each tour highlights five works of art on display that relate to the topic and includes a mix of biographical and art historical information, communicated in simple, straightforward language. Educators and curators carefully selected the works included on the self-guided tours to help visitors make connections to works of art and to lead them through the galleries.

The reopening of the permanent collection galleries after their complete reinstallation during the summer of 2016 inspired the tours. Callan Steinmann, associate curator of education, said, “I’d wanted to create self-guided materials for a while, but decided to wait for the permanent collection reopening to launch them. Now that the galleries have more wall text and contextual information to help orient visitors as they move through the galleries, people can really get a lot more out of their visit even if they don’t have a tour guide.” 

Educators and their interns worked on the content for the guides during the reinstallation, and they were rolled out recently. Steinmann says they plan to add a few new guides every year to correspond with the works being shown in the galleries and to switch up the topics of the tours. They’re currently working on a few new ideas, so visit the museum soon and keep your eyes peeled for new mini-tours. 

Stephanie Motter
Intern, Department of Communications