Venus is More than a Women’s Razor Brand

I’m starting to understand why people are so into this art! I’ve never been much of an “art museum person.” I’ve always felt that museums center on art history, and I’m more interested in the story the work tells. Yet this class is allowing me to appreciate museums anew; I’m learning to understand the story each piece tells on my own, without reading the wall text beside it.

This week we have been practicing Visual Thinking Strategies, or VTS. VTS  is a way of looking at art that requires viewers to pause, and consider the individual elements of the work. It asks viewers to look slowly, lengthening the time between observation and conclusion. Though this process sounds simple, it is really challenging. As someone who likes to know — to think in facts rather than in probabilities and ideas — hovering in this uncertainty is really difficult for me.

I am good at making quick judgements. I walk down the street and I know: “That is the Duomo,” “That woman looks cold,” “That gelato smells delicious.” But what happens when what I am observing is less clear-cut?

The ease with which we categorize and sort stimuli is usually very useful; however, it can also cause us to jump to conclusions before fully understanding what we are seeing. Through VTS, I am learning to suspend my judgements for a little longer each day, collecting the facts that I need to support my assertions before I make them.

In VTS, when viewers find themselves jumping to conclusions, they must explain how they know what they know. For example, consider Botticelli’s famous “The Birth of Venus.” You have probably seen this piece before, but just take a second to really look at it. What do you see? There are an unlimited number of  aspects of the painting that you could focus on, but for the purpose of this analysis, focus on the woman in the center of the piece, Venus.

A viewer might observe, “Venus looks like a modest woman.” But in VTS, the viewer would then have to explain their observation: “Venus is using her hands and hair to cover her naked body. She is also averting her gaze, looking down and to the left, and tucking her chin in towards her body, possibly indicating shyness. A character at the right of the frame is offering Venus a cloak with which to cover herself. These components lead me to believe that Venus is a modest character in this painting.”

VTS provided me with a framework through which I am able to slow down and consider the details of the work, rather than blindly forming an opinion at a glance. Instead of just seeing the art, I am savoring it.

I am trying to extend my understanding of VTS to other areas of my life, lengthening the time between my observations and conclusions, but I’m still a work in progress. It turns out it’s a lot easier to change the way I see art than the way I see the world. But now that I recognize the information to be gleaned from the details, I know that slowing down to attend to them is worthwhile.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said “ God is in the details;” I’m starting to  appreciate how right he was.

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Ciao CC! My name is Quinn and I am (sadly) a senior, (happily) a psychology major from CC. Throughout my time at CC, I became increasingly obsessed with my major, and had more and more trouble forcing myself to branch out into new, uncharted disciplines. By taking "Gazing" in Florence, I am attempting to get a taste of other fields, without veering too far from my one true love- psychology. I am also attempting to get a taste of lots of gelato flavors and some handmade pasta in the process.

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