arts abroad

Cecilia A. Feilla
Department of Literature & Language
Marymount Manhattan College
221 East 71st Street
New York, NY 10021

Visual Arts Abroad: Art and Literature in Paris

Adrienne Baxter Bell and Cecilia Feilla

In previous years, Visual Arts Abroad (Art 288) has taken as its theme Florence and Rome (2006) and Athens (2007). This year, the spotlight was on Paris, one of the most exciting cities in the world for artists and writers. Professor Adrienne Baxter Bell (Art History) and Professor Cecilia Feilla (English) co-taught the course and developed an original theme for it: Art and Literature in Paris. Coursework focused on intersections between these two creative forms, so that as students visited important sites in and around Paris, from 10–18 January 2008, they discussed both the site and literary counterparts to its art and architecture. The class contained students from a wide variety of majors, including English, Communication Arts, Dance, Studio Art, Art History, and Sociology.

First day: Eifel Tower Each day in Paris was based on a theme, such as “Gothic: The Object and The Myth,” “The Nineteenth-century Flâneur,” “Early Modern Impulses in Art and Literature,” and “The Surrealist Gesture.” Students read assigned texts in advance of the trip, explored works of art and architecture in Paris, and engaged in topical discussions in museums and historical sites. Elements of the wildly fantastic came to life in the architectural details of Notre-Dame, in Victor Hugo’s Romantic novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (Hunchback of Notre Dame). Strikingly bold paintings by the French Realist Gustave Courbet (1819–1877), seen in a massive retrospective at the Grand Palais, reified the artist’s passion for independence, as expressed in his “Letter to Young Artists,” and in Honoré de Balzac’s vivid portrait of the life of the artist, in his novella, The Unknown Masterpiece. When visiting the Musée Lunch at Chartres Rodin, home and studio of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), students compared the artist’s tangible sculptures to their mythologized incarnations in Edward Steichen’s photographs and his memoir, A Life in Photography. A day-trip to the Chateau of Versailles—home to French kings from Louis XIV to Louis XVI—inspired comparisons between the kaleidoscopic illusions of space in the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) and the similarly callisthenic literary devices of Molière (through an excerpt from his Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur and the one-act, Rehearsal at Versailles) and of the maxims of François de La Rochefoucauld. In the Beaubourg Museum (Centre Georges Pompidou), class discussions focused on the nature of Modernism. Spatial and textual games in Pablo Picasso’s collages found their ideal counterpart in the modernist poetry of Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein. Likewise, the highly eclectic art collection of André Breton set the stage for a discussion of his landmark text “What is Surrealism?” and the literary innovations and scandals of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.

Here are some reactions to the trip:

On Chartres Cathedral

Visiting Chartres

"If I had to pick a favorite moment from the trip, I think I would have to pick Chartres Cathedral. It gave me a real feeling of what a Gothic Cathedral during that time period in France would have been like. The stained glass was so beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen before. I especially loved how each stained glass told a different story. The work was so detailed and read just like a book.”
—Allyson Noonan, '08

“Regardless of the tortuously blustery and turbulent weather, my first shadowy glance of Chartres Cathedral instantly made an unimaginable impression on me….Walking toward the cathedral and gazing at the façades, the untouched stone and unclean surfaces made it possible to remove oneself from the reality of current times into the Middle Ages when religion was the source and justification for people’s earthly existence.”
—Elis Estrada-Simpson, ‘09

On Visiting the Louvre Museum

The Louvre at Night

“I absolutely loved visiting the Louvre, especially coming out during the night from the pyramid and looking at the spectacular twinkling stars in the sky. I was really overwhelmed by the Louvre’s size; it is immense, with so much to see.” —Katherine Rimola, ‘09

Visiting the Courbet exhibition at The Grand Palais

“Entering the Courbet exhibition, it was as if the curator thought he was Courbet himself. The exhibit almost said, “This is who I am and how I am going to show myself to you.”
—Christy Ellis, ‘10 At Versailles

“While looking endlessly into Courbet’s portraits at the exhibit in the Grand Palais, Balzac’s words echoed in my mind: `It’s not the mission of art to copy nature, but to express it! Remember, artists aren’t mere imitators, they’re poets.’”
—Elis Estrada, `08

On Visiting the Musée Delacroix

“In the Delacroix museum, the paintings seem to become more alive than in a larger museum… Here, the artist has become more human and we related to him in a way that is not necessarily through the commonness of work but through living life.”
—Desiree Fortina, ‘08

“It was neat to learn that “Liberty Leading the People” was painted by Delacroix who was inspired by Victor Hugo’s poems. I loved how the poets and the artists were all inspired by each other during the time because it really helps document their history and what was going on during the time.”
—Kathryn Rimola `08

On Notre Dame, Paris

“The fact that we, students, could interact with such a building causes feelings of the sublime…The cathedral as a whole shouts pride for its people.”
—Maggie Fischer, ‘09

At Musee Rodin

On visiting the Musée Rodin

“Researching and viewing Rodin’s work first hand was inspirational to me. He captured the human form in fluid, natural movements and sought the everyday realism within his sculptures.” —Christy Ellis, ‘10

On Visiting the Beaubourg

“During our trip in Paris, we visited the Beaubourg, which was one of my favorite places to see. Before the trip, I was always in love with modern art, although after my experience on the trip I have a greater appreciation for art history.”
—Katherine Rimola, ‘09

An Artist’s Reaction to Paris

“As an artist, it is almost impossible to leave Paris not feeling inspired. The city itself is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen… What was most inspiring to me was getting a chance to see hundreds upon hundreds of artworks that Paris houses in its many museums and exhibits.”
—Olivia Clopton, ‘10

Excerpted from Artfusion News 2008 .

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