Thoughts on Gazing

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.


Published by Andrew

Buongiorno! My name is Andrew Kopel, I am a senior psychology major/Spanish minor from Boulder, Colorado. Within psychology, I study the use of language and its role in thought. I am interested in education, particularly experiential and outdoor education with school-aged children. I have never been to Italy before, but I did study in Salamanca, Spain for my first semester with CC, making me a Winter Start student. I took a class called "Personality" with Professor Tomi-Ann Roberts my sophomore year which convinced me to become a psychology major, so I am very excited to take another class with her!