As of this weekend, I have now been in France for over a month! In that time, I’ve somehow managed to see so much art and visit enough museums that I can hardly keep track of them all. In Paris with my family, I visited essentials such as the Louvre and the Museé d’Orsay; Giverny, where Monet lived and painted his famous water lilies; the excess and gilded splendor of Versailles; and L’Atelier des Lumieres, a place best described as a digital art center showcasing immersive experiences. Since arriving at Georgia Tech Lorraine, I’ve also seen Le Pompidou in Metz, the Baron Gerard Museum of Art and History in Bayeux, and the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) in Antwerp, not to mention the many public artworks and beautiful buildings I’ve witnessed during my wanderings.
Seeing so much art has made me think about the purpose of both art and museums, and about the ways humans choose to express themselves. There are so many functions of museums—to preserve collective memory, to educate visitors about the past and the present, and to create an experience for the viewer, among other things. There are even more reasons behind the creation of art, and it’s been very interesting to observe how those reasons have changed over time.
The Louvre, or at least the part we visited (it’s SO very large) was mostly comprised of older art, from ancient eras to medieval times; in general, from before the 19th century. Much of the art, from the massive commissioned oil paintings to the Greek and Roman sculptures, is as realistic as possible, aiming both to capture the details of human form and often to tell a story or promote an ideology. Pieces were often used to convey political messages as well. For instance, the massive painting of the Coronation of Napoleon, with its intricate detail and over one hundred visible characters, is visually stunning, but also specifically intended to paint the emperor (pardon the pun) in a positive light. Similarly, at Versailles, there were portraits and statues of various kings all around, most made to look more majestic than the subjects they portray actually were.
While the technical expertise and beauty of these realistic works is marvelous, my favorite works of art have always been those that seek to portray the world in a way that it’s never been viewed before—as a result I’m a big fan of Impressionism and of the more modern art styles that followed, from the 19th century onward. The way that Monet’s Water Lilies captures the softness of the scene, the way that Van Gogh brought out so much emotion with his color work, the strangeness and abstractness of the modern art at Le Pompidou – those are my favorite works of art to experience, when something completely different or entirely new is created from what already exists.
Most of all, I love how every work of art has the reflection of a person within it. Each piece says something about the artist, about the time when it was made, about society, in some way, whether or not the meaning was included intentionally. I could continue to talk about art to no end, but mostly I’m glad that my learning about it and my museum-visiting days have no end in sight!