At once liberating and challenging, this intersession period has proven to be, single-handedly, one of the most rewarding time spent at the university. By pure coincidence, the class that I had originally signed up for had cancelled two days before the session began and I was left but to hurriedly choose a class among the few courses that were still available. I stumbled upon a course titled Expanding Time, Space, and Meaning in Visual Art and Music and frivolously registered for it, hoping that I would still be able to get in the class in spite of the late registration. Thankfully, the class had enough room for me and I have been loving it ever since.
The class description goes like:
“This course tracks evolving concepts and perceptions of time and space throughout the 20th century and the implications of such concepts on notions of meaning and beauty in both visual and musical contexts. Specifically, this course will consider the performances and recordings of pianist Ivo Pogorelich and the abstract expressionist paintings of Gerhard Richter as contemporary traces of a more sweeping historical gesture embodied in the work Paul Cezanne, beginning near the turn of the 20th century.”
The course, to me, goes beyond strictly the visual arts and musical realms and invites a dialogue with the philosophy of our holistic perception of the world and our interaction with different dimensions of our senses – time, space, sound, sensation, etc. Through the vehicle we deem art, we are able to introspect about the ways we live life and absorb the reality unfolding before us with a heightened sense of sensory acuity. What was strikingly relevant to me was that the class bridged the gap between the cognitive psychology of the human body – the physiological sciences behind our actions – and the more abstract, intangible ideologies art and beauty. In class, our discussions revolved around how certain artists challenged the trajectory of the industry by introducing new ways of perceiving, breaking fixed molds of thinking, and ultimately (and most importantly) redefining – and expanding – the phenomenology of beauty.
To have a taste of the material that we attempt to digest in class, we can take a look at the artwork of Cezanne. His artwork is truly pivotal in the painting industry because of the innovative way he presents reality. Working with backdrop of impressionism, Cezanne introduced a novel way of representing what existed before his eyes by manifesting the natural experience of the optics into brushstrokes.
Our optics are facilitated by fast muscles that move incredibly rapidly and take snapshots of the scene, piece by piece. These patches of information that our eyes pick up are merely data about the reflection of light. Once our eyes collect these raw fragments of data about our reality, they send the information to our cortical brain areas, which processes the information and nicely provides us with a complete, unified scene of our world. What we “see” – the scene that occurs in front of us – is not what the eye sees but what the mind actually creates. Here’s where Cezanne comes in. Cezanne aimed to capture the process that occurs before all the processing happens, before all the mechanisms and filters in our brain (that are culturally and socially imbued) create what we “see.”
Thus, in Cezanne’s work, one can easily notice that his painting seem like multiple patches of areas synthesized together in ways that seems peculiar and not right. This visceral discomfort that we experience when we look at Cezanne’s artwork allows us to realize that what we see is actually not the objectively true reality. Our cultural filters that are ingrained in our mechanisms of processing the world influence how we see the world – even how we perceive the length of a line. Cezanne’s attempt in constructing art that is closer to how the nature of the body works introduces a refreshing way to encode our reality. His art is of a unified amalgamation of multiple frames of snapshots taken from many different angles at different times. At once, we are able to experience a beauty that emanates from the coalescence of different perspectives. Thus, embodied in Cezanne’s paintings is this sense of simultaneity of multiplicity. The vessel of art, as exemplified through Cezanne’s work, indeed, becomes not simply of a form of sensational entertainment but a way of thinking about the world.
By making sense of our reality with the help of the arts and sciences, the class has challenged me to perceive the world with slight skepticism and a renewed sense of finding what is the truth. In addition to the intellectual stimulation that this intersession has prodded me with, this break has also tested me in my culinary skills. My boyfriend and I have been able to explore our cooking abilities because of the ample time we have to cook elaborate meals that aren’t simply a readymade or instant. To end the blog off on a cheerful note, here are some of the platters that we have made over the break and have gorged on in the Baltimore’s food scene!