Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
In the museum, my favorite part of the discussion with Irene Winter was about the functions of Museums. I really appreciate the fact that Irene Winter talked about how we should criticize and appreciate the museums simultaneously.
First we discussed the use of light, especially focusing on the muscle depiction, from where and at what angle the object received the light. It was amazing to see how the two dimensional artifact gave a three dimensional impression with the light and shadow giving it a depth, emphasizing the important parts of the carving, making a contrast with not so important parts like the contrast between the carved and the smooth-plain regions. I think this quality to the carving is really interesting because though it is two dimensional you have the feeling of depth and since you see that it is only two dimensional, not three, you don’t think you are getting any feeling of depth. Thus it creates a much more effective feeling than a normal three dimensional artifact by deceiving, making the feeling and the sight/belief contradict. As you contradict yourself, the artifact impresses you, dominates over you, thus realizes its aim. I realized the feeling created by the play of light was really strong and unable to be felt through the pictures on a paper. They really gave the impression that the ruler was that strong muscular person, suitable to rule, similar to the Gods standing near him. In other words, I realized how important it was to copy the exact same light effect on the artifact.
Afterwards, we discussed the effect of the angle of the object, the placement in dark with the very bright light upon the object itself only, centered, about the tiny carving of a lion biting the neck of a human. I hadn’t found that tiny piece in the museum any significant that, until Irene Winter told, I hadn’t realized that it was by itself in the middle of a dark space with a sparkle of light at an angle that would enable to see the depth of the carving to appreciate it. I had only found it different than the others because it was made out of wood and because the lion was killing the human with a golden short instead of the king in the form of human killing a lion so declaring himself the king of the kingdom of animals by beating the king of the beats, lion. When Irene Winter told that it was put in such a place by itself, separated from the rest, at such a weird angle so that it gave an erotic feeling, I realized that it seemed as if the lion was passionate about biting the neck. It was so weird to find how museum was able to play with the meaning, the feeling of the object.
We also talked about how the museum had not put the two pieces of carvings on top of each other, as was in its original in which there was an inscription in the middle. Then we said how someone who doesn’t pay attention to the writings nearby wouldn’t connect them to one another. And how the comparison could be made much more easily if the one belonging to the later period was put near those. As Irene Winter pointed out, there was an irritating transition from the big carvings to small artifacts with an unrelated black and white picture, which I believe stood out saying, “Hello, I don’t belong here!” I think it would be wonderful if there were a museum which put the artifacts of an archeological site exactly at the same places instead of trying to create art by using the art.
Besides the curatorial concerns, we also discussed the ethical concerns. I agreed with Irene Winter on the fact that it was really bad that museums were buying artifacts from those who were not professional archeologists, which was tempting more people to follow in that direction and cause the continuation of destruction of the fields. But I also have concerns about this because if the museum doesn’t buy them and exhibit them, then they will probably end up in someone’s own house, as a part of their private collection, far away from public view. Moreover, though I believe the artifacts should stay at their original places, what happens in case that country is unable to protect those artifacts? What if that country goes into a war and those artifacts are in danger of getting destroyed? I think it is better to have them in museum in a different place than having them in a person’s own private possession or not having them at all. Additionally, this summer they made us read a book, The Places In Between, in which the author was running into people who were excavating illegally, destroying the site. But nobody seemed to be concerned to send archeologists there, neither did the author seemed to be bothered to persuade them not to do so, instead he just criticized them in the book to the reader. Now I can even see a positive side to it: those artifacts probably would have remained hidden if those people were not excavating. What is the use of the artifacts when they are not to be exposed? So in a way it was not that bad after all.
After so many critics, I want to emphasize something I adored about the museum: the suspension of small artifacts in the air in such a way that made possible to see top, bottom, left, and right, all most everywhere of the object. I always hated not to be able to see the backs because I believe the details in the back are sometimes even more fascinating than those visible from the front.
It was also great to be with Irene Winter, who was so passionate to show that Assyrian art was very developed that the art history should include them and not start right off with Greek art. I realized significant details about Assyrian art which I wouldn’t have noticed if I were by myself. For example, the development of technology observable through the number of sticks in a wheel. I would have never thought that increase in number of sticks in a wheel would mean that technology was more developed during the one with more sticks, since chariots got bigger and the wheel needed more support. Or the very subtle inscription on the horse about the gods, one of which looked like a cloud (according to Irene Winter a flower). She told that until she had seen it in the museum she had not noticed the inscriptions on it, which I think is a very good reason to actually see an artifact if you are writing an article on it. If we return back to the difference in perception of the flower-cloud, I think it demonstrates something very significant: people see things differently and see different things in the same object. Another example would be the one about which we discussed if the swimmers were Assyrians or enemies. Jed realized the stick on the back of one of the swimmer; I realized the Assyrians were pointing arrows to the swimmers but not the other ones: whereas Irene Winter had thought it was Assyrians who were swimming.
I think there is also an important role of experience, and prejudice involved in looking at the artifacts if you have a prior knowledge. Thus I believe the best way to examine an artifact is to first approach it with no prior knowledge to get the feeling it leaves on you and then learn and combine the feeling and the information and look at it again. I believe that naivety is really precious because once you learn, you form prejudices, and you can’t go back to the openness to the feeling you used to have when you were ignorant that would allow you to get the intended meaning, feeling tried to be conveyed by the artifact. In the example given by Irene Winter about Raphael’s painting of Jesus, Saint John the Babtist, and the Virgin Mary’ I believe that even if a person has no idea about Christianity and the meaning of the pyramid in the renaissance art, the person would get a feeling that there is something holly about the picture if the picture is successful in expressing itself. For example, I definitely believe that someone who knows nothing about Buddhism will still find the Buddha’s sculpture in RISD Museum calm, reverential and most of all peaceful. I believe that if an artifact is successful enough it doesn’t require much at all. It has itself; it doesn’t need any more or any less. Itself and how it is displayed determines everything about it. And actually, I may go as far as to suggest that if an artifact is really powerful, it will convey the same exact meaning and feeling no matter how it is displayed.