Art Matters by Shelby Kinch '22
My heart races as I slowly reach for the magnifying glass and move it glacially over the delicate paper lying before me on the long mahogany table. The work in front of me is a 1658 etching by the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn titled Woman at the Bath with a Hat beside Her. I am captivated by the shadows in the work that flicker across the wall effortlessly, a product of the evening sun emanating from beyond the page. I feel like a time traveler, sitting here in this quiet room for hours, imagining what it would be like to make this etching, to capture this moment for years to come. In this way art connects us to some universal aspect of human imagination, allowing us to enjoy moments that span time and distance.
This year, as we grappled with the pandemic, I began to think about artistic imagination as a means of creating community, even from a distance. In March, as the Student Advisory Board members parted ways, our series of Instagram posts, #dailydose, created to highlight objects in the Art Museum’s collections, became a way for us to stay connected with the Museum and one another. As the student body coped with new realities, #dailydose served as a beautiful and cathartic reminder of our shared interest in art as a powerful force of community. Later in the spring, as we organized the online exhibition Life through Our Lens, I was again reminded of the ways in which art can express both individual imagination and collectivity. We received more than 150 photographic submissions to the project, which spoke to the incredible resilience of our artistic community.
Both of these projects highlight the power of art to articulate human experiences, and while the Museum is not physically available to us, we are challenged to see art in everyday life and the world around us, which constantly offer beauty in unexpected ways. Art to me is experiential and varied and versatile, finding us in new forms when we need it most. I see art in the paths a water droplet takes down the side of a statue, carving and reimagining the stone over time. Or maybe art is the way the sunlight illuminates the side of a Rembrandt print on a winter evening.
Art can also be a mode of reimagining worlds and enacting change, a theme SAB explored through the fall event See Change: Art & Upheaval, in which we welcomed student submissions related to change and asked, “How does art help us understand moments of upheaval?” and “How can art help bring about change?” Subsequent discussions at the virtual event raised further questions about the role of art: Can art enact change in the world? How does social media change the way we think about and perceive art? How can art advance racial equality? In this case, art fostered dialogue, allowing student artists, SAB members, and art lovers to ask important questions about the future of art as a medium of community building and reimagination.
As a member of SAB over the past two years, I have seen firsthand the ways that art can bring us together, even in unprecedented circumstances. A lifelong art lover, I joined SAB in search of people who shared my love for art and a desire to make art accessible to other students and to the broader Princeton community. The most rewarding thing I have gained from my time in SAB is the opportunity to work with such driven, compassionate, and creative people. Every day I find myself in awe of the incredible work that SAB members do. I wish I had known as I moved the magnifying glass over Rembrandt’s signature f and explored the intersecting marks across the paper that I was experiencing one of my last moments in the Museum. Perhaps I would have asked for a bit more time to study the hat on the right side of the work or the shadows that weave in and out of the cloth. Maybe I would have just sat in silence and enjoyed the way the paper changed color ever so slightly as the sun shifted in the sky. What I do know is that I am grateful for every minute that I had in the Museum—from my first time seeing Andy Warhol’s Blue Marilyn (1962) as a freshman, to the way the music echoed through the galleries during SAB’s Failed Love my sophomore year, to the hour I spent with Yeesookyung’s work Translated Vase TVW1 (2015) before my chemistry final. As we move through uncertain futures and make new paths for ourselves, I know that art will find us in new and unpredictable ways. It always does.
Shelby Kinch '22
President, Student Advisory Board, Princeton University