Inducing a Passion for Art
by Anne Gordon Perry
Last summer as I put together my syllabus for a fall Humanities course at North Lake College, I randomly selected October 9 as a field trip date. Little did I know it would be one of the most exciting nights of my own intersection with art, as well as that of my students.
I chose to take the students to the Dallas Museum of Art, mostly because Thursday night was free night at the museum. Many students had never been to the DMA; some had never even been to downtown Dallas.
Despite their various trepidations about finding the place, negotiating one-way streets, parking, and being outside of their usual milieu, most of my students came. We met in the atrium café, where we enjoyed the jazz of the Rachella Parks Quintet (featuring a guest scat singer) and delicious, inexpensive food. A few of my students from UTA (interested in extra credit but also in art) joined us as well.
The museum was abuzz with activity. I could tell something was up as I searched for a parking place in the museum lot. A greeting committee welcomed arrivals; people of diverse ages and backgrounds swarmed the lobby. That night was the "sneak preview" of the new exhibit, Passion for Art: 100 Treasures 100 Years. Many activities were planned at the museum, and multitudes were responding.
After we were sated on jazz and café fare, we headed up to the modern galleries to visit the Celebrating Sculpture exhibit and to hear an art talk by Lora Sariasian, curator. On the way, we ran into a crowd in front of the Horwich Auditorium, gathered for a film festival event, co-hosted by the Angelika Theatre. I, now feeling like Mother Duck with twenty ducklings who might get lost behind me, resisted the temptation to investigate the film festival.
One of the modern galleries was full of people sketching with internationally recognized Dallas artist Nic Nicosia, whose work is featured in the 100 Treasures exhibition. It wasn't just ten or twelve people sitting on stools with their sketch pads, but perhaps 60 or 70. Wow, I thought. My students will certainly get a perspective on the vital aliveness of art here.
The Art Talk, also attracting a large crowd, spanned centuries and styles and took us into a number of galleries. Sariasian was superb. One of the new sculptures was a large, rectangular sea of small spring-green candies, which we were invited to sample. Ephemeral art. The definitions in the Humanities textbook will begin to make more sense to the students, I thought.
A plethora of modern art bore witness to the multifaceted directions we had discussed in class; I could tell the students were experiencing a heightened sense of reality and perhaps were relating more keenly to the concept of epiphany associated with art. I certainly was. Meanwhile, we enjoyed Diana Dill Savage and Friends performing chamber jazz in the Barrel Vault.
On the way back to the featured exhibit, we had a conversation with a big blue bird and his puppeteer at the entrance to the children's gallery. And we stumbled across a small gallery of work inspired by the dancer, Isadora Duncan. By now I was afraid I might faint from sheer ecstasy. A few of us tried some of the poses of Duncan.
"Remember these works," I told the students, who would be reading the chapter on dance for next class session. This was all before we stepped into the Passion for Art exhibit, but our appetites for art in its many genres had been totally whetted.
And then, we indeed found treasure. How can this new exhibit be reduced to words? It was like a cascade of art, blessing us with its richness of sensibility and form. Thematically arranged, the works enveloped us in artworks depicting landscape, geometry, body, masks, machine, luxury, cosmos, and transcendence.
Within the exhibit area, Vatsal Dave and Nikhil Pandya performed classical Indian music on sitar and tabla next to film projections of dancers in different styles. By this time my epiphanies were coming so regularly I thought I might have an aesthetically induced stroke. "We are bonded forever," I told my students.
The final piece is a video installation, with visual projection on both front and back of a large, flat screen. Some of my students watched the twelve-or so-minute piece multiple times, going back and forth between the two sides. It was, I thought, a final crown to all the glory.
But there was more. As we went out to the lobby we heard African drumming and dance, which had begun on the third floor. We were led back to the café, where the sounds and sights of performers from Reciprocity entranced us.
What more could the museum offer? Well, there was an open mic session next, where audience members were invited to read a poem or sing a song. As I happened to have some poetry with me, two of us (along with other volunteers from the crowd) read to a large, enthusiastic audience. As we later slipped into the gift shop (with its own enticing treasures) we heard the strains of a haunting gospel song. How art had brought us together, I thought.
At ten-thirty we ran into some students that had said goodbye at 9:00. "We had to go back through and look at everything again,"? they said, eyes glowing. I confess we didn't stay for the insomniac tour from 11 to midnight. For myself I was afraid of inducing a heart, er art attack from so much saturation. But a large crowd stayed on.
In the twentieth century many artists taught us that museums were dead places and that art belonged on the street. Now, in the twenty-first century some museums are showing us just how much life (and art) can be found within their sacred precincts.