Rectory's Spanish 1B and printmaking classes teamed up for an interdisciplinary field trip to The Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven on February 18. It was a beautiful sunny day as we embarked on our journey. Arriving just before the gallery opened, our guides were ready and waiting for us. We took off our coats as they explained a bit about the museum's policies. Students were anxious to begin!
Our tour guide was Hannah Sachs, Master of Divinity Candidate at The Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Our first stop was at a painting by Diego Velazquez. Hannah got the students to talk about the painting by asking them what caught their eye. As the students noticed different things, she would pose questions about certain features to get them to think a little bit more. For example, when they noticed the eyes she asked, "Where are they looking?" One student was able to discern that the young girl was looking out from the canvas.
This style was typical of Velazquez, but also important to the painting. After a guided discussion about the painting, the students came up with the background story. They thought a mother was teaching a young girl, although the girl was not paying attention. There is an angel above but her head is missing and the animals below are also missing parts. The painting is called The Education of the Virgin. It was believed that Mary was already born knowing everything and therefore did not need to be taught. This explains why she is looking out. The pieces that appeared to be missing were actually cut from the original canvass as they were too badly damaged. So, the students were spot-on with their observations!
Then we passed by a statue.
Our Spanish students were able to guess that it was by Joan Miró. Hannah asked them if they thought that this statue was related to Velazquez. They said no, which was true. Diego Velazquez is one of the most famous people in Spanish art history and the court artist for the Spanish court, known his portraiture and realistic art, Joan Miró, on the other hand, chose a surreal style for his work.
The next piece of art we saw was by Pablo Picasso.
The students were asked to write down words in a stream-of-consciousness style. They had to write whatever descriptive words came to mind about the painting. Then they were divided into two groups and asked to make a poem about the painting using their own words. After reading their poems, Hannah observed that the students had a lot of opposites. There were words like "gloomy" and "dim," but also words like "hopeful" and "bright." Upon further examination, they saw that the mother looked to be a bit dark and sullen but the child was happy and innocent. Hannah told the students that the painting was painted in 1943. Before she could ask the students what was happening at that time, they interjected, "Oh, World War, II! So the mother is worried about what is happening in the world but this is a happy moment for the child. Oh, ok!" It was amazing to see how Hannah could encourage thoughts and conclusions from our students without directly telling them the answers.
We briefly saw a painting by Salvador Dalí called The Phantom Cart, which the students described as surreal, "like being in a dream." It was a picture of a city in the middle of the desert, yet it would have been impossible to take this picture with a camera.
The students enjoyed looking at this artwork. Then we saw another painting by Miró and Hannah explained that Miró often used his subconscious mind to draw. Similar to a stream of consciousness, he would think of a topic and let his hand move around the page.
Finally, we saw a painting called Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 78 by Robert Motherwell. The students were asked to look at the painting and come up with their own titles. Some were funny, "Banana and coconuts." Some were ominous, "A hanging tree." Regardless of the titles, students were engaged and excited about the art. We learned a lot about the Spanish Civil war and heard how it impacted Motherwell. He felt so badly about what had happened there that he made a series of 100 paintings to get it out of his system.
After we finished our tour, students were invited to walk around the museum and see the rest of the collection. The collection is huge, covering impressionists like Degas, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Van Gogh, and countless other artists and styles. There is a big American art section that includes a painting by Ralph Albert Blakelock, the great-great-great-grandfather of our own Judy Blakelock.