I have always felt a personal connection to art, having grown up with it my entire life: my grandmother owns an art gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where my mother is the Director. I have spent numerous Saturdays visiting galleries and touring museums, and I have taken several hands-on art classes throughout New York City, including drawing ones. My grandmother’s gallery, unlike many others in New York City, gives equal appreciation to drawing as it does to paintings. Through the years, the gallery’s exhibitions have consisted of a wide range of works, artists, and mediums. My favorite of these shows have included “50 by Matisse: Drawings and Prints,” “Minimalism: On and Off Paper,” and “Works on Paper,” all of which featured for the most part drawings. Additionally, when given the opportunity to travel to Brazil this summer with the gallery for work, I had the honor of meeting Anna Maria Maiolino, who works with several mediums. While browsing her studio, I noticed that the works I was drawn to the most, were all drawings.
When I entered Duke University in the Fall of 2014, I had the chance to look at art from a different perspective, through an academic lens, learning about the historical and social contexts of works. I find this interdisciplinary approach, something I was introduced to at my high school, vital to understanding just about any issue, but certainly the history of art. However, since coming to Duke, I felt as though I had lost the hands-on connection to art that I had grown so accustomed to in high school, through the classes I had taken at various institutions including the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and the International Center of Photography (ICP).
As an Art History major at Duke, I have the opportunity to be be exposed to stellar academics that cut across all disciplines and am fortunate to have the Nasher Museum on campus as a resource. Registering for a drawing class was my attempt to return to the intimate connection to art that I had previously appreciated so dearly. After three semesters of academic classes focusing on a broad range of periods and locations, including art in Renaissance Italy, American Performance art in the mid-late 20th century, and 18-19th century French painting, I came to the realization that my intention as an art history major is not solely academic: I do not desire to become a writer on the history of art. Instead, through the classes I take in my four years at Duke, I hope to grasp as complete of a thorough knowledge of art and its history as possible. I do not believe this goal can be achieved through solely studying historical contexts and academic analyses of art. Rather, I suspect that in order to truly grasp and understand the complexity of a subject, including art, a hands-on experience with it is necessary. Just as an engineer must attend lab to practice what has been learned, or as a premed student must dissect an organ to understand its intricacy, I believe a student of art history must practice the techniques and approaches to art that artists had/have.
To truly understand the art of capturing beauty in the everyday, the mundane, one must practice doing it. As a student in this class, I have felt frustrated to the point of tears, preoccupied with perfection, but also proud. I have even surprised myself, realizing a talent for charcoal that I never knew I possessed. As I go through all my drawings, preparing to hand in my portfolio, my progress is evident. Yet this improvement means more to me than just an increase in skill for rendering realistic portrayals of shapes, shades, and settings; with my heightened ability, I have come one step closer to achieving a full understanding of art, artists, and art history. This spring, I am simultaneously in a class that studies that method of art students enrolled in 18th century art academies, who copied the detail of various objects by studying them closely. Training my eye to resemble that of these artists, I have allowed for a more complete understanding of the techniques and process common in 18th century academies. As I continue through my next two years at Duke, I will continue to pair my academic approach to art history with a hands-on visual one, and when I graduate in the Spring of 2018, I hope to feel as though I have sought out the most integrated, thorough, and complete understanding of art history.