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.
Gazing: Gender, Bodies, Faces, and Emotions
Well, we just finished week one of our class here in Florence. I’ve been really enjoying it, partly because the curriculum involves so many cultural immersion experiences, but also because the discussions we have been having in class have proven to be remarkably thought provoking. So far in class we have covered topics varying from the basic principles of what constitutes art to the intricate complexities of human facial muscles used in emotional expression. We have drawn from a wide range of topics, but after a full week of class and museum visits, I think I am beginning to weave everything together to understand the overarching themes of the class.
One big theme has been the idea of physical closeness with objects that feel significant. On the first day of class, we discussed why it feels so much less impactful to simply look at a picture of a piece of art, or for that matter, a replication of a famous work. Why is it that seeing a photo someone took of The David feels so underwhelming, but being in its presence can be a profoundly emotional experience? One student mentioned how the relationship we might have with a replica of the statue will make us focus on the aspects of the art itself, whereas being in the presence of the original gives us a relationship with the artist. “He really actually touched this thing” is an intense sentiment to experience. We have learned about the artist, the context, and the significance of the piece, but now we are seeing the culmination of all of those factors in the real artwork.
This theme was continued when we visited the Medici Chapel in Florence, where we looked at religious relics. A relic can be either a body part of a deceased saint or something that a divine figure has touched, such as a piece of their clothing. People would travel thousands of miles on pilgrimages to visit churches all over Europe that had (or perhaps simply claimed to have) relics of various patron saints. The concept of keeping a body part feels foreign and bizarre to our modern-day mentality, but I think it involves the same mentality of traveling across the world to see The David or the Mona Lisa. Being in the physical presence of an item, without even having to touch it, gives us a remarkably deep connection with an artist or a saint.
These somewhat vague themes about art and its significance were a strong contrast to some of the hard psychological science classes I have been in for most of the semester. That changed when we got to the Charles Darwin readings. In class, we spent a long time breaking down the intricacies of human facial muscles, the various expressions of emotions, and the adaptive nature of human expressiveness. It was fascinating hearing the detailed scientific way he described something as commonplace as a smile; really digging deep into what it is that makes humans do what they do so easily and unconsciously was enlightening. This class is a unique combination of history, art, and science. It feels like the true goal of a liberal arts education, integrating knowledge from disparate fields to uncover new truths about ourselves. Plus, the added benefit of the block plan means we can just focus on this class for one month while being “on location” here in Italy. This feels like a true CC experience that is hard to get anywhere else.
Today marks the beginning of an adventure for me, and like all true adventures, it is equally exhilarating and terrifying. Though I am a senior, and feel like I’m starting to get the hang of psych classes, this one is a little intimidating. I signed up for “Gazing” because I think Tomi-Ann is a really bright woman, and was happy to take any class she was excited about. But in truth, I know very little about the actual subject matter of the class. In my defense, it’s a big mix of things: emotion, art history, and gender studies. I know a little about emotion, although I haven’t taken that psych class yet (stay tuned for 5th block), but I know almost nothing about gender studies or art. A lot of this will be new to me, but I’m going to do my best to convey what I’ve learned.
Today was our first day of class, and I’m already in awe. We visited Michelangelo’s statue of David, which you have probably seen if you have ever looked at any art before. I had seen David many times; from the cover of my textbook to funny cooking aprons- David is all over the place. But I have to say that seeing him in person felt very different. It was almost like meeting a celebrity. Larger than life, and beneath a bright skylight, David truly commands attention.
The statue itself is at the end of a long corridor, lined with other Michelangelo statues, called The Captives. These tortured-looking figures emerge from the stone, their incomplete figures seeming tethered back. Rock melts from their extremities and crushes down on their heads, forcing the statues into strained and contorted poses. There is some debate as to whether the statues are intentionally unfinished or not. Michelangelo used to say that in carving statues, he was simply carving out figures that existed independently in the stone, freeing them. It is possible that The Captives are meant to depict the process of the statues escaping.
In sharp contrast to The Captives, David is very much complete. Every detail of his body is carefully etched out, from the curls in his hair to the veins beneath his skin. From afar, David looks very relaxed, leaning casually to the right, and gazing over his left shoulder with calm self-assuredness. We guessed that the statue represents David just after he slew Goliath.
Yet up close, the statue adopts a new meaning. David’s expression is strained, his brow furrowed. All of David’s muscles are tensed, as he rocks nervously between feet. His soft gaze seems suddenly intense and pensive, as though he is planning a way to beat the giant. Though the statue is physically colossal, David looks small and afraid.
Seeing The David led us to a discussion about what is so special about seeing the “real David” as opposed to pictures on the internet, or even a life-sized replica. In the same way seeing a rainbow or the totality of an eclipse inspires, seeing art in it’s natural place in a museum inspires the viewer to connect with a miracle. We might picture Michelangelo possessed by inspiration as he chipped away at the marble, really feeling the sweat collect on his brow and his arms become weak with the effort. We might wonder what story Michelangelo wanted to convey, and why he chose to depict David as he did. In a museum setting, the statue looks so grand, and demands the attention it deserves. Yet in museums, art can easily become mystified by scholars, over-explained by experts so that “common people” (like me) cannot have a chance to interpret the work on their own. Gazing upon The David outside of a museum (looking at a photo of the statue or replica), begs the viewer to connect with the piece of artwork instead of the artist. Because viewers outside of the museum are given less historical information about the piece, they have to make their own stories to explain the work. Both contexts are valuable, but for totally separate reasons. The style of seeing is shaped by the context. I am struck by the visceral feelings it inspires and the impacts it leaves.
After two full weeks of exploring the COP23 in Bonn, I can say that I learned a lot from leaders in various categories of climate action. It was a great opportunity to observe a convention on such a scale. As I make my way back to the United States, I want to share some of the biggest things that resonated with me:
1. There is still a lot of work to be done. There is a clear difference in opinion on a lot of matters. I saw this through arguments after talks, protests during speeches, and a conversation I had with a man from Iran. One day on my way to Bonn, I had to abruptly get off one train and wait for a connecting train. Shortly after, a man approached me and asked if we were still going the right way to the COP23. This sparked a conversation on energy and finding a balance between fossil fuels and renewables. He explained that he was from Iran, worked in the energy sector and was heading to the convention to negotiate for fossil fuels – makes sense given the Middle East’s dependence on oil and natural gases. The most interesting part of my conversation with this stranger is that he kept mentioning the importance of “finding a balance” between fossil fuels and renewables. I asked him how he thought we could achieve that and he immediately responded with, “Well what do you think?” The fact that he didn’t have a clear answer indicated that there is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve ambitious climate goals.
2. The US is ‘Still In’ in a big way. The US made a huge splash in the conference with the US Climate Action Center and hosted over 30 events including business leaders, governors, and senators. In light of current climate politics, it was an impressive display of non-federal commitment. Leaders such as Michael Bloomberg and Jerry Brown made a promise to continue funding initiatives to achieve Paris Agreement goals.
3. US businesses play a leadership role in sustainability. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Mars Inc. and Walmart are still committed to their own targets. Last Friday a panel of sustainability officers from the aforementioned companies described their sustainability efforts. Without going into too much detail, Walmart is committed to a 100% renewable energy future and currently sits at 26% renewables with a 2025 goal of 50% renewables. Similarly, Mars Inc. aims to decarbonize factories and be net zero by 2040 in a large part through changing the way transactions occur in the supply chain. Corporations must continue to other businesses and organizations.
Thanks to Mark Smith and Colorado College for an unforgettable journey filled with learning and networking.
Sam Sheridan ’18
Pictured above: Senator Ben Cardin and Sheldon Whitehouse sharing that the US is still committed.
Wow wow wow! What a block it has been! I can’t believe it is over, and I know it will take a lot more than the flight home to process everything that has happened. I am writing from the comfort of my hostel bed, which I will say goodbye to in the morning, as one of the last of our cohort to depart. I will take this opportunity to begin the process of reflection.
I’m not entirely sure how to structure this post, and I would like to keep it relatively concise, so I will use a skill that my 2.5 years at CC have engrained in me: reflection via rose, bud and thorn.
Rose: This one is easy: everything. If you just rolled your eyes, that’s fine, but I mean it. The opportunity that we had to be here, as a bunch of under-grad American students from a small liberal arts college, has no comparison. We had the opportunity to meet Jeff Seabright, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever, Katherine Neebe (’97), Chief Sustainability officer at Walmart, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the President of COP-20, among others. We had coffee and conversation with change makers, movers and shakers from all corners of the world. That is pretty neat, if you ask me. To be in the presence of these incredible people, in the place where the magic happens, so to speak, has been an unparalleled opportunity. Just the chance to attend COP-23 is a major rose all by itself.
Bud: As my classmate Kelly said in her most recent post: once you know and understand the causes and impacts of climate change, you can never un-know them. While I feel that I have always been well informed about environmental issues and I was raised in a household adamant about turning off the lights upon leaving rooms, composting and recycling (thanks, family!) this block and the COP has opened my eyes to a world of complexities and nuance that I didn’t know existed in the realm of climate change. I have heard personal narratives from corporate executives, indigenous leaders, mothers, fathers, students and countless others from all over the world. Returning to Colorado and to CC, I am excited to bring with me the passion, the energy, the dedication that formed the foundation for this conference. My bud is fairly simple: the opportunity to take everything we have experienced here back home as a souvenir and to build on this incredible experience as a foundation of knowledge and action.
Thorn: This one is a little bit harder. Clearing my rose-colored (pun kind-of intended), post-COP glasses, the thorn that stands out is the thick bureaucracy and politically-driven cloud that surrounded the conference. Like Katherine said in her most recent post, the negotiations frequently get hung up on single clauses and even individual words. The dissonance between debating relatively inconsequential verb tenses and the very real effects of climate change that are affecting very real human lives is hard to ignore. As students attending an American college, we know that politics is in everything these days. No issue seems to be above partisanship, and this was ever present at COP-23. I found it frustrating to sit in meetings and hear a story about a mom who lost her home to freak flooding in one minute, and the next minute hear that an organization dedicated to helping this mom couldn’t get funding because some political body couldn’t get a bill passed. The thorn on my rose of the COP is the frustratingly slow-moving, albeit potentially inextricable, bureaucratic process of change.
I have many more roses, buds and thorns, but this is a blog and not my memoir, so I will end there. This has been a truly once in a lifetime experience and something I will carry with me forever. Thank you to Mark Smith, Colorado College, our individual sponsors who got us badges, all the people who took time out of their schedules to meet with us, and to everyone who made COP-23 and this block possible.
Signing off, with endless amounts of gratitude,
Anna Brent (’19)
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the last two weeks as a P.S.:
Here is our very own Emily Abbott (’19) meeting Frank Bainimarama, COP-23 President!
Another MAJOR rose: all the free food!!!!
Al Gore Speaking! Woohoo!
Katherine Kerr (’18), Jack Mosley (’18) and I, with the actual globe in our hands (well, in the air, but it was previously in our hands).
Happy fall break! The past two weeks went by super quickly, and it’s hard to believe that it’s already block break! Yesterday I spent the whole day at the US Climate Action Center for the US Business Showcase, a full-day event that brought together corporate leaders from many iconic U.S. brands to explore their efforts to help decarbonize the American economy. We heard from sustainability executives from Mars Inc., Citibank, Microsoft, Walmart (CC alumna Katherine Neebe) and many other companies. At the conclusion of the Showcase, we had our final class gathering at the evening reception. It was great to be able to network and learn from CC parents and alumni and hear from our classmates about their favorite parts of COP23. Some of the highlights from the class were seeing insightful panels, hearing new perspectives, participating in protests, and seeing celebrities.
Today, everyone in the class went separate directions. Some returned home for Thanksgiving, while others stayed in Europe to travel for the rest of fall break. I spent the day exploring Bonn and Cologne, seeing things that I hadn’t had the time for previously. I went to the Kunstmuseum, a modern art museum located just a block away from the Bula Zone. The museum had an extensive collection of Rhenish Expressionism and post-war German art, as well as a fascinating contemporary exhibition. I also walked through Rheinaue Park which surrounds the COP23 venue. The park is full of art and educational exhibits about various environmental issues.
Tomorrow my classmate Kelly Nguyen and I will travel to Berlin to continue studying environmental economics through a slightly different lens. With support from the Keller Family Venture Grant, we are traveling to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Brussels to explore the rise of “ecopreneurship,” environmental entrepreneurship, in western Europe. With the base of knowledge we have acquired at COP23 about types of supportive regulation, mechanisms of capital investment, and innovative business models, we are excited to continue to explore this important issue. Of course I’ll need a couple days to catch up on sleep first though!
It’s been an incredible 2 weeks at COP23 thanks to our dedicated, caring, well-connected professor who has helped us to make the most of this unique experience. On behalf of EC385, I’d like to thank Mark Smith for supporting us and making this experience possible.
Bula & Auf Wiedersehen!
Cole S. ‘20
I am currently sitting on a train back to Frankfurt, not entirely sure how to begin to process the last week and a half. After countless brötchen (little bread rolls), meetings, and conversations with people from around the world I leave feeling filled, yes both intellectually and physically from the entirely bread and cheese based diet I have adopted for the past week.
Here are some highlights!
#1 As I mentioned in my previous post, by some mistake I was promoted to head of the organization that had generously accredited me a pass into the side events. However, this promotion also allowed me access into the Bula Zone AKA the zone where the negotiations take place. While I couldn’t get into very many events I was able to sit in on a revision session of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with mitigation. In all honestly, I understood very little of the paragraphs that were being reviewed, but I was able to observe the negations process in all its glory and frustration. They aren’t kidding when they say that an hour can be spent discussing whether or not to change one word to essentially its synonym. As tedious as the negotiation was it was fascinating to get a look into how intergovernmental relationships and decisions unfold. If you have every participated in model united nations, it is EXACTLY like that, but real life.
#2 I loved walking through the conference, or from one building to another, or sitting on the train next to delegates from ALL over the world. It was not uncommon to engage in a conversation only at the end to find out that they were they head delegate from some country. It was humbling and inspiring to be amongst the world’s leaders on climate change, and not just in the same building, but conversing with them.
#3 I was fortunate enough to spend the day shadowing Katherine Neebe ’97 the Director of Sustainability, Stakeholder Engagement for Walmart. The day started with a meeting with Mars discussing scope 3 (emissions that are not directly owned by a company, but part of the supply chain) counting methods. Katherine spoke about Walmart’s gigaton project, which is a scope 3 emissions target, leading the way for large corporations. The day included another panel and prep for more panels the next day. The best part of the day, were the side conversations that I was able to witness. They ranged from people trying to get involved with Walmart’s efforts, to old colleagues trying to support each other’s new projects. And while many of the people were coming from large corporations, the issues they were talking about were so grounded, real, and pertinent. The issues on the table have every day impact on people, society, and the environment and these big countries see their magnitude as an platform to make large scale change. The day ended with a dinner, in which the conversation was passionate and genuine about how I can best bring what I have learned at the conference back to the CC campus, but more on that later…
^This is a photo with the entire group and three Colorado College Alums that were also attending the conference, Matt Banks (WWF), Katherine Neebe (Walmart), Lucy Kessler (Yale Grad Student).
It’s been an incredible trip! Thank you to everyone that made it possible and major shout out to Herr Doktor Professor!
Today was our last day at the COP and a good one to finish on. We began the day with an early meeting with Cambridge University engineering professor Hugh Hunt. Dr. Hunt is the engineer behind a geo-engineering project intended to increase the reflectivity of the planet by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. This would be a temporary but potentially effective patch to a huge problem. Dr. Hugh suggests that this could put a halt on warming and the catastrophes associated with temperature increase above 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius while we work on getting further infrastructure in place. This topic is obviously incredibly controversial, but Dr. Hugh gave us some small assurance that some of the more dynamic and intelligent scientists are putting the idea through its paces.
Because I haven’t written since the very first day of the conference, I wanted to write a little bit about one of the more powerful experiences I had during the COP. During one of the first sessions at the US Climate Action Pavilion, Senator Ricardo Lara spoke about California’s climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Senator Lara is incredibly well spoken, an impeccable role model, and the work that he is putting forth in California is exciting.
After the panel I had the opportunity to speak with him for a little while about some research I was putting together for my thesis, (Thank you Mark!) and he gave me some really valuable policy insight into the real-world problems inherent in the renewable labor market in California. I kept my composure and tried not to look as star-struck as I was feeling, so meeting the Senator was a highlight for sure!
Despite the initial intimidation I’ve felt navigating the convention on, I find myself filled with a greater sense of confidence and inspiration for the international agenda. Today the United States Climate Action Center opened in Bonn at COP23 for a week of presentations and panel discussions to promote the grassroots movement #We Are Still In. The movement showcases the efforts state representatives, non-governmental organizations, private sector corporations, universities, and faith organizations are taking to pursue the climate change mitigation goals of the Paris Agreement. The opening ceremony highlighted the success some U.S representatives have found in pursuit of emissions reductions, sustainability initiatives, and environmental justice. The narrative was met with high spirits by a crowd of international constituents and gave me optimism that the U.S may actually take the necessary steps to address climate change in the coming years. That being said, my skepticism remains that a considerable portion of state and private sector commitments may not be upheld unless domestic climate action culminates in enforceable policy, or at the very least encourages and leads to greater transparency from actors in the process.
Here is a picture of the kickoff panel discussion:
After listening to the U.S climate action center kickoff I went to a REDD+ Side Event that discussed where the program stands and what is needed moving forward. One of the speakers, Arild Angelsen left us with a sentiment that I believe parallels what I hope to see come out of the U.S climate action movement. Arild prompted the audience to consider that although projects win battles, policies win the war. The war in this context is a matter of action vs. inaction, and I hope the #wearestillin movement will not only lead to successful localized projects, but also will inform the implementation of effective domestic policy that positively contributes to the international climate regime.
Sorry for the late post! We’ve had really spotty internet here. Actually, something I learned last week is that the internet in Germany is extremely expensive and therefore the internet in Cafés, houses, hotels, restaurants, etc is usually pretty slow.
On Friday, we tried to get to Bonn on the RB48 (a nicer train that is generally less crowded than the one we have been taking) and due to protests at the Bonn central station on coal we passed the station and ended up past Bonn in a little village. We ended up meeting a lady from Norway and splitting a cab with her to Bonn.
I spent the rest of the day at the US pavilion, which had opened the day before. It was really interesting to listen to people talk and sit around the general area and see the different people attending. There was a really interesting discussion with the head of sustainability of Walmart, and a few other major businesses, discussing their approach to being sustainable businesses. This was really interesting to hear about because generally sustainable methods are seen as more expensive and therefore economically inefficient. However, through this discussion they explained how while it might be more expensive initially the long-term investment ends up being less expensive and it creates more jobs, generating economic stimulation in cities.
At the end of the day there was a reception in the US pavilion where I met an interesting guy. He believed not in <2 degrees Celsius but rather 0 degrees Celsius. While this sounded really ambitious and unrealistic to me it was eye opening to hear his argument and stance on his opinion. Additionally, he told us about a few projects his company is investing in to reduce carbon emissions. One of these projects is man-made lime stone that is actually more pure than naturally found limestone and is a carbon sink that absorbs limestone. The other project he talked to us about is a mechanism for “stirring the depths of the ocean.” Essentially, the nutrients and sediment found at the bottom of the ocean absorbs CO2 and is a natural and abundant carbon sink. However, in the middle of the ocean where the current is not as strong and there are not crashing waves to disrupt the ocean floor the nutrients and sediment does not get pulled to the surface and therefore cannot absorb the C02.
Friday night was a great opportunity not only to network with individuals but also to have more one-on-one conversations with these business men/women and senators.