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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Taking the Class out of the Classroom: Students Visit Museums for Class Requirements

Walking down Fifth Avenue on the east side of Central Park, street vendors step out from behind their tables, coaxing pedestrians to buy their artwork and wired figurines.  Heading towards E. 80th St. and Fifth, food vendors sell hot dogs on the sidewalk and a local street band entertains the crowd of people sitting on grandiose stone-like steps leading up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, better known as the Met.

According to its website, the Met was founded in 1870 and is now one of the world’s largest museums, and is home to more than two million pieces of art spanning 5,000 years.  Around five million people visit the museum every year.

Stony Brook students help contribute to the number of visitors, as some art history professors make visiting the Met or other museums in the city, a class requirement in order to get students to have a full appreciation of what they learn a few hours a week from their textbooks or lectures.  After visiting their chosen museums, students work on assignments such as oral presentations and papers documenting their experience and research.

“Museums are where the art is, where most of it that is available for viewing is, and it’s just like people,” said  James Rubin, an art history professor who specializes in Western European art. “You can think you know them, but meeting them is a different experience and artwork has a physical presence that it is impossible to reproduce on a screen or even in a copy.”

Walking into the Met from the front entrance, visitors have the option of going left towards the Greek and Roman Art, right towards the Egyptian art or up the main staircase to the second floor.  There are sculptures and figurines placed strategically in their designated rooms and paintings hung up on the wall, recognizable, yet unfamiliar, from the textbooks.

“You can look at photographs in a book, you can look at slides, you can look at online, and you’ll get an idea of what it looks like,” said Rhonda Cooper, director of Stony Brook’s Art Gallery and an adjunct lecturer, “but even in two-dimensional things it’s nothing like the real thing, so if you go to a museum and you actually are there in front of an object, you get a very different feeling.”

As an example, Cooper used the Mona Lisa.  Most know what the Mona Lisa looks like; it is a powerful piece of artwork, but in reality, it is really small.

“It’s kind of different if you ever go to the class and you see the slides,” said San San Ng, a senior biology and studio art major. “The colors are a little bit changed.  It’s different from what you see in the real thing and you get to see the framing of the work and you actually see the brush strokes and everything.”

Seeing artwork in person allows students to feel what the artist was trying to portray, something that is not always apparent in pictures.

However, not all professors require their students to partake in a visit to an art museum.

Although Shoki Goodzari, an art history professor who teaches Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Islamic art, thinks museums should be incorporated into classrooms if possible and suggests that her students partake in museum visits, she stopped requiring her undergraduate students to do so three years ago because of financial purposes.

An off-peak roundtrip ticket for the Long Island Rail Road from Stony Brook to Penn Station costs $23.50.  From Penn Station, students can take the subway for $2.50 or hail a cab.  According to ny.com, the base rate for a cab is $2.50, with each fifth of a mile costing $0.40. Then, there’s the Met’s $10 recommended donation  for getting into the museum.

As the economy progressively worsened, Goodzari could no longer justify that her students spend the money to visit museums, in addition to the high cost of text books.

“Ethically, I started having issues with mandating and making their requirements be based partially on their museum visit,” Goodzani said.

Goodzari may start requiring students to visit museums again.  As an alternative, she gives her students webpages of museum’s collections, which allows them to zoom in and out of the artwork.

The GoogleArt Project also allows people to virtually visit galleries contributed by museums around the world including the Met, the Frick Collection in New York, the National Gallery in London and the Palace of Versailles in France.

While allowing viewers to get extremely close to a piece of art, perhaps closer than one could at a museum, it does not replace the experience of physically going and seeing the real life object.

“It’s absolutely great, but it still is not a substitute,” said Rubin who has looked into The GoogleArt Project. “I still like it because seeing these things up close in other words the close up photography is beautiful in itself and I think it’s going to encourage people to look more closely at pictures, not just to stand back, but to look at them closely.”

Though a requirement for a number of students, they form their own opinions about going to museums.

Some students such as Erin McCaffrey, a freshman majoring in psychology and minoring in studio art, think visiting museums for class is a great idea.

“I feel like you can really learn a lot by looking at both classic pieces by the masters as well as the contemporary or more modern pieces in pieces both in and out of museums,” she said in a Facebook message.  “Because as you probably know, NYC is a huge epicenter for amateur art which, in my opinion, can be just as helpful for artists to check out as the more typical artists/pieces.”

While McCaffrey was in high school, she, along with her art class, would go to nearby galleries and sketch pieces of art showcased there.  She said her experience helped her grow artistically and hoped it would do the same for others.

In contrast, there are other students, such as Angela Delise, a freshman psychology major, who do not like the idea of visiting museums.  Though artwork at the Met or at the Museum of Modern Art did not particularly catch Delise’s interest, she does see the benefit for those do visit.

“I think that visiting museums can help an individual realize what type of art they like and what they are drawn to, so I do believe that it is beneficial,” Delise said in an email.

She believes each individual’s taste in art plays a part in their feelings towards museums.

After touring the museum, people stop at the coat check to pick up their belongings and drop their red pins used for tickets in the recycling containers at the doors.  Exiting the same way they came in, visitors walk down the same steps, the surrounding area still filled with people chowing down on hot dogs and taking in the street entertainment.  People are leaving The Met, while others are just arriving for their museum experience.  Students make their way to cabs or head towards 77th and Lexington for the subway back to Penn Station to take a train ride back to Stony Brook’s campus.

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