I’ve been waking these past mornings with visions of Raphael’s School of Athens, Leonardo’s Last Supper and Vitruvian Man and Michelangelo’s David and The Sistine Chapel. As many pre dawn risers have been opening their browsers for the early news, I’ve been logging in for the latest updates on the High Renaissance. To say I’m enamoured with Quattrocento Italy would be an understatement. (0h, how I love that word, quattrocento – just saying it makes me feel like a renaissance woman…)
This is kind of ironic since a mere ten days into Art History 102, I plunged into despair and withdrew, overwhelmed with deadlines, grading and the kind of intellectual competition (my own ) I’d completely forgotten existed.
It’s strange, isn’t it, how our visions of things don’t necessarily line up with how things are. I’d been imagining studying art history being like sipping wine with an art appreciation group while gazing upon the Italian coast. But instead found myself transposing reams of historical information onto index cards, struggling to remember it all. And before I knew it, I’d developed a highly suspicious imaginary tumour under my left arm. Ahh, such are the risks of returning to school…
I’m not sure where I got this idea, but I’ve been thinking that following the art school dream ought to be an easy thing. Well, at least easier than not following it. Because surely the universe will assist and applaud a heroic quest for self fulfillment, right. And surely because we’re doing something positive and worthwhile, our more rational self will shut down and shut up our sabotaging irrational self, right. Wrong. You know that saying, ‘wherever I go, there I am’, well so it is.
Anyways to make a long story shorter, after a week of doubt, panic, surviving cancer, a lot of peanut m and m’s and changing my student status three times – I’m back with the program and loving it.
Change, even good change, is challenging. Just this past week has meant exchanging an idealistic perspective for a real one, letting go a little of performance expectations, pushing past self-imposed limitations and fears and reconciling with structure and learning curves. Returning to school teaches things well beyond curriculum.
But there’s a kind of brilliance you find on the other side of yourself. My world has literally been thrown open (once again) with ideas I’d never have discovered had I withdrawn. Like how before Brunelleschi, the mathematics of perspective was left behind in ancient Rome and Greece. Or how it took a monk of questionable practice to shift the painted art of religion from solemn and unnatural to approachable, beautiful, colourful and playful. Or lovely new lyrical words, like contropposto, chiaroscuro, ariccio, quattrocento…
And larger themes, like how religion and humanism have always pushed and shoved one another for influence. And how art and architecture have reflected that ongoing struggle.
Everything we see holds pieces of the stories, lives and thinking from hundreds, thousands of years ago – one thought building upon another. It’s a vastly different way of looking at the world for me. That Palladian window over there on the neighbor’s house – now I understand it beyond being just a design shape. Now I see behind it the architect Palladio, acting and reacting within the shifting culture of the fifteenth century. And how Palladio’s innovations were rooted back in ancient Rome and Greece. In fact, the entire explosion of thought, architecture, art, science, and math of the Renaissance roots back to the ancient thinking of philosophy and humanism.
Which leads me to ponder the dark ages, and the influence of the church… but that’s another rabbit hole. And I have a midterm to prepare for. Returning to school, in spite of a bit of a rocky start, is one of the finest things I’ve ever done. Seriously, if you’re thinking of it, just do it. It’s full of golden discovery.