Remember Disney’s 1964 feature Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews? (It’s set here in London! ?) Picture that scene, the one where they come across a line of sidewalk art and hop right in. If it’s been a while, or you haven’t seen the film, wandering through the Victoria and Albert Museum is more or less the real-life equivalent. Only, rather than dancing penguins and chalk trees, it’s as though you’ve stepped directly into the pages of all your art history textbooks. I think one of us passed by at least one work or copy we’d seen pictures of before—and many people got to look at different parts of the museum entirely. The British Museum was a little like this, but overwhelming in scale. The V&A’s size and organization make it easy to stroll around and focus simply on absorbing the awesome, awesome work.
My best friend is a seamstress, so I was sure to take my time and nerd out properly over the Balenciaga fashion exhibit in her place. But afterwards, I knew exactly what I wanted to see first. I’d been particularly excited to see the Rodin sculptures. He and contemporary Degas are two of my favorite artists of all time, and it’s hard to find enough information about work online and in most books unless its one of the pieces with its own Wikipedia entry, like The Thinker or The Gates of Hell.
I definitely prefer quantity over notoriety when it comes to seeing other artists’ work, because process is infinitely interesting to me; the more material to learn from, the better. Most people would agree, I think. It’s the same reason seeing a notable artist’s sketchbook is so cool. Anyway, checking out those works in person, I realized a photo wouldn’t have done it justice anyway: one could feel the turbulent energy in the shape and movement of each form just walking around it. Some of my favorite pieces were the ones I knew not to even bother photographing, because the memory alone would be more valuable as reference than a flattened imitaton. I also visited a couple original and cast/repro versions of classics we recognized with a friend, and nearly passed out in excitement at the Raphael Cartoons room. It’s always cool getting to see any original work in person for the opportunity to check out marks and surface texture more intimately, and learn a little history from the placards, but in the case of these drawings, the sheer scale commanded an atmosphere of total attention. While I’m not a religious person myself, I could almost understand how perfectly these works might inspire awe and wonder of magic forces beyond normal human understanding. I pictured devotees kneeling to pray and seeing these illustrations surrounding them, stretching far, far into the sky towards their heaven.
The Natural History Museum afterwards was cool, too, but my favorite part of the afternoon was getting a little bit lost on the way out. We had to walk a ways to find a train station, and it seemed like on every block, we passed more neat architecture and interesting type. Everybody in the group found themselves pausing to take a photo almost as much as actually walking. It was nice, and a peaceful transition to the latter part of the day. We grabbed a quick, quiet lunch before regrouping to check out our next stop. This morning, above all the other visits, really put me in the mood to exercise more fine art muscles again. Since I’m so engrossed in design, and school gives us so much challenging and interesting coursework, I don’t paint as often as I used to, and certainly haven’t worked in sculpture since foundational classes. Now I really want to get more hands-on! I’ve heard more than a few classmates express similar thoughts and inspiration this week. It’s nice to know we aren’t alone in that.