Week At The Met: Learning The History of Art With Rika Burnham
History of Art with Rika Burnham is not so much a class as a two-week-long
field trip to the museum. This free eight-day class for high school
students at the Metropolitan Museum of Art steers clear of the
lectures-and-filmstrips approach to art history that many high
schools use. Instead, everyone grabs a stool, paper and pencil
and travels through the Museum with Burnham as their guide. She
stops at selected works and talks about them, asking questions
to draw out our thoughts. She then gives us a few minutes to sketch.
Even those who cannot draw very well agree that sketching aids
1: We looked at the art of ancient Egypt and talked about
eternity. Rika dispelled the myth that art always goes from simple
to complex. We learned that Egyptians knew how to draw realistic
faces and bodies, but they chose not to because they were trying
to portray an unreal world where gravity didn’t exist.
2: Mike Norris, a classicist, was our guest instructor. As
we explored the Greco-Roman world, he presented us with an interesting
paradox: The Greeks believed that “people are more important than
stuff,” he said. In the face of a Persian invasion, the Greeks
evacuated Athens and survived, although the city was burned to
the ground. Modern museums, on the other hand, value the “stuff”
because without it,
they would not know about the people at all.
Day 3: In tune with the day’s topic, Medieval Art, we contemplated
Jesus on the cross and statues of the mother and child. Christian
art is important in part because it marks the point in Western
art where the viewer starts to matter. “You’re a silent group
today,” Rika remarked several times. Later, we apologized and
explained that we didn’t say much because we were overwhelmed
by these works, not because we are uncomfortable discussing religion.
The class, organized by the Museum’s Uris Center for Education,
is held every summer. This year, it has drawn 35 students. Amanda,
who took the Advanced Placement Art History exam in May and scored
a five out of five, is taking the class to gain a different perspective
on the subject. Lori-Anne, who recently moved to the United States
from Jamaica, wants to be a civil engineer. She believes the class
will help her in her future studies.
I, myself, have only recently discovered art, and I seek to understand
it more fully through this class. Happily, I await Baroque, Neo-Classicism,
Romanticism, Impressionism and Modern Art because as the class
nears its end, the eras become shorter, and we can study them
in greater detail.
information about free classes at the Met, call 212-570-3961.
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