Opinion: Make some room for art this semester

Amanda Paniagua is a graduate art history major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

It is one thing to study a work of art in a textbook, but it is another experience encountering a work of art in real life. For example, when I had the opportunity to visit the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I turned a corner and was met by Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus (1863) and quite literally had my breath stolen from me. The blues of the sky meeting the blues of the ocean in the image were beyond description. A glossy printed reproduction in a book will never capture the brilliant blue hues that a human eye can. It was a life affirming moment for me.

Thankfully, you do not need to travel as far as Paris to experience great art. In fact, if you feel like being adventurous without risk of spending too much money this semester, I encourage you to visit nearby art museums. Both the Cleveland Museum of Art and Akron Art Museum’s permanent collections are free and open to the public.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is located about an hour north of Kent and houses an impressive permanent collection ranging from antiquity to the contemporary. The museum has recently undergone renovations and is home to a grand, skylit courtyard complete with a café. Having been to museums overseas, I can say that Cleveland has a true gem in its midst. There are many works from various parts of the world. In the North wing you can browse their collection of ancient American civilizations and on the way to the West wing there is a beautiful Japanese collection. Further into the wing you’ll encounter works from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both wings are on the second level of the museum.

The Akron Art Museum is about 20 minutes northwest of Kent and houses a much smaller but equally impressive permanent collection. This collection’s earliest works date to the late nineteenth century, so if you’re more into modern and contemporary art, this collection is for you.

Akron also houses a number of American works including pieces by Ohio artists. Akron’s museum is smaller in size compared to Cleveland but this, for me, creates a much more intimate experience with each piece. With so little ground to cover, you can always come back to a work that strikes your fancy and not feel like you’re missing out on any other piece in their collection.

My favorite piece in the Akron collection is Mickalene Thomas’ 2008 work, Girlfriends and Lovers. The impressive work is 9 feet wide and presents the viewer with four women seated at a table who are dressed in colorful outfits. Juxtaposed with their fashionable Western dress are various African textile forms that connect the women visually to their ancestry. Perhaps what I love most about the work is the use of reflective glitter surfaces throughout the image that make the women shimmer and sparkle as you walk near them.

Even if you are not in an art-related field, know that one of the great things about art is that it is open to interpretation. It is an intellectual exercise that can only sharpen our minds. What better time than now to sharpen yours?

Contact Amanda Anastasia Paniagua at [email protected].