Last spring I took an art history course at my school. The class was taught by a curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and claimed the class to be exciting and fun. I was initially thrilled to take the course which focused on the development of art between the Renaissance and Romantic periods, since I had the privilege to see some of the paintings like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in person a few years ago. The curator, while thoroughly educated on the subject matter was in her early eighties and presented the entire course by use of an overhead projector and slides, i.e. Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, all the while speaking with a severely affected diction attributed quite possibly to her wide range of ailments past and present. I slowly began to dread the three hour long class and would occasionally not return from our halftime restroom/ coffee break. This weekly experience led me to think about the many times I actually did enjoy art classes, tours, or even just staring at (or listening to) a work of art for long periods of time without ever having that dreaded anxiety of boredom creep its way in.
In the fall of 2008, when I attended orientation at the Manhattan School of Music, we were taken on a tour of The Cloisters. Run by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the collection is an exquisite representation of medieval art of both secular and religious origin. The excursion, which had about fifty people in it, was split into two groups. The group I was in, was matched with a young graduate student from Columbia University to lead our tour, while the other group was handed over to an elderly volunteer. Throughout the afternoon, I was fascinated to find out just how naughty some of the artwork in the medieval times was. Our guide frequently lifted seats that were brought in from European monasteries to show us little gargoyles that were designed to look like they were biting the asses of their occupants. The enthusiastic Ivy Leaguer also showed us books of medieval pornography and other hilarious finds. When the tour finally ended, members from both groups convened to discuss our findings.
“That was so boring!” said one student “I can’t believe we spent our afternoon looking at a bunch of bibles” said another. My entire group was shocked to find that the other tour guide had merely led the others through the museum reading off vague information cards, while ours offered an exciting and at times disturbingly erotic experience. I found it odd that half of our initial tour group was withheld information either because of the strict discretion of their guide or plain ignorance.
When we arrived at Leonardo da Vinci’s brilliant Madonna of the Rocks, in my art history course, I was really curious to discuss the differences between the Louvre and National Gallery versions. I was simply met with “that’s a little controversial for this course.” She obviously didn’t see Mona Lisa Smile.