Art Matters Winter 2018
I feel like I have become so lost in art that I think of parts of my life as paintings: Picasso’s Guernica captures best the state of my war-torn hometown of Aleppo, Syria; Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp my aspirations to be a physician; Ad Reinhardt’s untitled abstract pieces my search for serenity; Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm my organized and systematic chaos. I think of a painting for sadness or joy, solitude or company, spontaneity or calculation. There is something so special about being in an art museum and seeing all those emotions and feelings reflected in works of art, often coexisting in conversation with each other, a microcosm of the human experience and the world.
The intersection of the Princeton University Art Museum with my academic career at Princeton has been an extremely calming one. As a psychology major with an interest in child development and psycholinguistics, I consider the Art Museum to be an escape, an outlet where I can feel like a child all over again. I look around, and suddenly I am captivated by all the patterns that create a perfect harmony within the serene colors that cover the walls of the galleries. Children have the ability to recognize patterns from an astonishingly young age; they do it before they are able to formulate words, and they sometimes even do it better than adults. And every time I enter the Museum, I get lost in those patterns.
Geographic patterns shape the gallery of the art of the ancient Americas—as you walk around the ideally lit room, you journey from Chile to Alaska. Patterns of purpose are linked with art history as we transition from functional art to nonfunctional art the moment we go to the upper galleries. Patterns of color, influence, movement, and countermovement. The transition from the unfinished Neoclassical work to the finished Impressionist. The patterns of revolution, justice, and privilege all coexist in one place, quietly. To me, the Art Museum is an exciting overload of enchanting patterns, ones that I can indulge in for hours. Some are easier to notice, others require more thought. Some are external, presented by the display or the topic of the exhibition; others are internal, requiring self-reflection and only coming to life if you allow yourself to feel.
The spring of my first year at Princeton, I took Professor AnnMarie Perl’s “Contemporary Art from 1950 to Present.” From the first lecture, I started to see how intertwined contemporary art was with modern history—reflecting artists’ lack of faith in times of war, or their criticism of society in times of obsession with consumerism. I became eager to search for connections and look for the patterns. What was meant to be a short, out-of-domain academic venture turned out to be a source of inspiration. The following fall, I decided to become a tour guide at the Art Museum because I wanted to stay connected to this all-encompassing institution that is made accessible to us on campus. I wanted to keep searching for those patterns, in the engaged discussions with other students at the Museum and in the plethora of reflections that visitors bring to the Museum every day. Each time I give my tour, I have the opportunity to share my love and appreciation for the cultural institution that has defined my undergraduate career in so many ways. I look around the Museum and become overwhelmed by happiness. I feel joy that I get to give visitors an overview of the collections and share some of the feelings I have toward the pieces.
Whether through a debate on what art is in front of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box in the contemporary art galleries, a class facilitated sneak peek of the empowering Omnicron by Lynda Benglis, or a discussion of the Museum’s efforts to grow a more inclusive collection, my involvement with the Art Museum has inspired me to think of art’s connection to history, culture, and humanity—and the power of art’s institutions in priming that connection. Later in my life, as I reflect on my time here at Princeton, I know that I will look back at the Museum and be reminded of all that I was exposed to within McCormick Hall.
Naoum Fares Marayati, Class of 2019
Princeton University Art Museum Student Tour Guide