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A Woman and Her Lute by Chris S. '11

An epic tale across three centuries. (includes poor fanfic-style prose)

1702, Bologna, Italy

It’s late in the afternoon, and the sunlight is streaming diagonally across the piazza, splashing rays of golden yellow onto the worn, cobblestoned city square. Aside from the ever-present pigeons squabbling over pieces of bread, the plaza is deserted except for an eccentric figure, dozing against one of the sandstone pillars with what appears to be a foldable easel and a bag of paintbrushes slung over his shoulder. His slumber is abruptly interrupted, however:

“Giuseppe! É tardi! Wake up!” An attractive young woman clad in a white cotton dress nudged the sleeping man, who had slumped over and is now sprawled out on the ground. “For goodness’ sakes! Are you going to come see me play tonight?”

Vattene! Let me sleep some more.” Giuseppe resumed his position against the pillar and closed his eyes again.

Mamma mia! You’ve been sleeping forever. Wake up! Wake up!” The woman grasped his shoulders, and started shaking him fervently.

“Ay, Luciana! Va bene! I’m getting up now…” Yawning, he rubbed his sleepy eyes and began to stand up. “Where’s your concert tonight?”

“Giuseppe! For the hundredth time, you very well know where it is! Goodness, have you even forgotten what you promised me when you saw me play last time?”

“Mm? Oh wait, do I owe you another lasagna? But I don’t remember making a –” At this point, he was abruptly interrupted by a sharp tap to the head.

“No!! Dio mio, at this point, I don’t know how many lasagne and tortellini you owe me already, given the rate that you lose your bets with me. But you surely remember this time?! You said you were going to…?” Luciana glanced up hopefully.

“Oh! Amore mio, I promised you a painting, didn’t I?” Luciana nodded up and down vigorously.

“Giuseppe, I want it to be with my lute. Vieni, let’s go to my performance first. Afterwards, let’s go to Luigi’s and you can paint me there. Make it a good one!”

Winking, Luciana took his hand and the couple headed off, with the fading rays of the sunset glimmering behind them.

2008, Cambridge, Massachusetts

And thus the Professor of the History of Arts speaketh,

“Thou shalt visit the Museum of Fine Arts, procure a Postcard, and assimilate thy intimate Understanding of the Complexities of the Craft of Oil Painting in a written Composition discussing both the Merits and the Flaws between an Original Work of Art and a Reproduction. Make absolutely certain to provide an elaborate and thoughtful Discussion of important Elements such as Color, Texture, and Dimension in thy Discourse. Go forth and be at Peace.”

Having thus decreed by the Professor, Oasis embarked on an epic Journey.

I spent two hours in front of that painting, jotting down notes and analyzing every single inch of that painting. I was there for so long that the security guard got curious and came over:

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, a paper for my Art History class.”

“What school are you from? Mass College of Art?”

“Nope.”

“Boston College?”

“Nope.”

“Harvard?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, I give up.”

“I’m from MIT.”

“Wait, Em-Eye-Tee? Like the MIT in Cambridge?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, an art student at MIT. Well, I’ve never heard THAT before!”

(and then I have to explain to him that I’m actually a bio student, and I’m taking art for fun. MIT does have an architecture department though, and visual art is categorized with architecture.)

Sooo, I came home and assimilated by 13-pages of handwritten notes into a 2,500 word essay.

Anyways, the moral of the story is – Introduction to Art History (4.601) is this wonderful class that I discovered by chance this year. The actual story is kind of complex (ha), so here goes:

When I was on my way back from Central America, I had to transit at LAX so I told my friend who was studying at Biola University there that I hope to stay for a bit in LA and visit her before heading back to Boston. Sooo, I went over to Biola when I got to LA and had a really nice chat with her till 4 in the morning (she was my high school classmate who I haven’t seen in a year). That night, she told me that she took Art History during the summer and I was intrigued by all these stories and anecdotes that she was telling me about the class. So it got me thinking…”hmm, I wonder if I should go and explore Art History?”

Some background here –

When I was in high school, I LOVED history. Our school only offered APUSH, so I went ahead and did AP Euro and AP World on my own. I loved history so much that at one point I flirted with the idea of majoring in history in college (but called it off because the rational voice in my head was nagging me against it). However, I’ve always only been exposed to traditional history, since I was always a bit suspicious of anything that has the word “Art” in its title (I nearly failed elementary drawing). Having the conversation with my friend, however, actually opened my eyes to this exciting new form of history, which I’ve never actually thought about before. Moreover, on a separate note, I’ve also been wanting to take a class at Harvard recently in order to experience a different teaching style.

Thus, during the summer, when I was UROPing here, I was looking up history offerings at Harvard for the fall semester. After visiting Biola and getting the idea of Art History in my mind, I became curious about their History of Art and Architecture 10 (which is basically the equivalent of 4.601 here) and started looking up info about the class. I got as close as procuring a cross-registration form from the HASS Office until I decided to double check Harvard’s final exam schedule again and discovered that in fact they DID NOT change their exam schedule this year to be before Christmas (Harvard traditionally has their fall final exams during our IAP, and someone told me earlier that Harvard changed it this year to be the same as our final schedule). Having made plans for IAP already, I called off the notion and went back to the regular MIT HASS classes that I’ve pre-reg’ed for.

Then my friend from Wellesley comes along and tells me that she TOO is taking Art History (albeit at Wellesley, which apparently has the first Art History course in the nation). By this point, I’m convinced that there is just too many coincidences going on and under her exhortation of “you know, you should really just do the things that you love,” I started exploring 4.601 at MIT.

I was hesitant about 4.601 for several reasons:
-MIT is a tech school. How good can ART HISTORY be at a school that has Technology in its title?
-I am already taking too many HASS classes and I don’t really need the credit. What if the class turns out to be unnecessary stress on my schedule?
-Historically, there isn’t a stable lecturer for the class.
-I already have 5 classes (60 credits) registered for the Fall. Adding 4.601 would put me at 72 creds.

But then I went to the first couple of lecturers, and the professor opened the class with a couple of intriguing questions that totally got me hooked into the class.

One such example was:

Going by your FIRST INSTINCT…

(You can’t choose both directions at once – which MIT students seem to be inclined to say =p)

Results:

It has been shown that most Westerners would say that the set of lines is leading down (top left to bottom right), because of cultural conditioning from reading left to right. This is in direct contrast to most Easterners (especially those that haven’t been living in the West or reads English) who would say that the set of lines is leading up due to the fact that most Asiatic scripts are written from right to left.

Cool, huh? =D

The coup de grace came when I was eating Chinese food a couple of days ago and I opened my fortune cookie, which contained the following message:

“Courage will bring you good fortune.”

I don’t know much about “good fortune,” but taking that leap of faith really paid off. =p

Oh, and even “Art” classes at the Tech can be fun. :D

22 responses to “A Woman and Her Lute”

  1. Anon says:

    Haha, I would say the lines are undecided and in severe need of counseling.

  2. Keri says:

    I’ve taken at least 2 HASS classes each term since last fall. Isn’t it fantastic?

  3. neat says:

    That’s really cool about the lines. I said down, silly western conditioning. AP art history was dropped at my school unfortunately, but at least AP Euro looks at art somewhat.

  4. Nice post! I especially loved the opening salvo. Is this lifted from your paper? I could imagine being your art history prof and opening my latest student essay and reading that!

    –Daniel

  5. And did I ever tell you I was born in Panama and spent the first 14 years of my life there? I lived in the Canal Zone!

  6. Ashwath says:

    Most Asiatic scripts aren’t necessarily left to right. All Indian scripts for instance, except Urdu, are left to right so that doesn’t entirely fit in with what you said.

  7. I think it’s really cool that you like history. I personally don’t like it because I don’t hold much stock in things that I’m prone to forget two months down the line, but whatever floats your boat!

  8. Muz says:

    The lines are from up to down. You could see from the way that there’s a bit of excess to the right and bottom of the lines. If the person was drawing it from down to up, there’d be an excess at the top and left.

    My instinct wins raspberry

  9. wesh m says:

    That stair is not going anywhere!Whoever heard of a stair moving?!(escalators maybe.)

  10. Anonymous says:

    the asian vs western thing is really cool.

    i do it in my high school equivalent as a part of my course. along with art and bits of art history/aesthetic judgment.

    do you learn about artistic revolutions in 4.601 too? smile

  11. Jacob Herman says:

    Art History is a life changing subject. If you have never looked in the history and development of art, you must give it a chance. I was never inclined towards the social study end of the education spectrum but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed taking art history in high school. I can only imagine how the brilliant professors at MIT will make you realize what the artist was thinking, their background, and the significance of each individual piece. After I finished that class, I never looked at art the same way. Yes, its true that now I can look at a painting for an hour or two and just enjoy its splendor. Then I can come later and notice an entirely new detail that just makes the work even more tantalizing. But I must say that the most interesting part of analyzing pieces of art is trying to decipher what the artist was trying to portray and what state of mind he/she was in. Art History is a class all must try.

  12. dora&kayla says:

    OMG… That was the most exciting post we have ever read!!! Good job! We used to love History in high school as well!!! WOW! We have so many things in common Chris!!!!

  13. Aditi says:

    lalalaa

    I’m bombing my physics quiz tomorrow

    wish me luck

    yay art

    freshmen arent crazy

    smile

    we love you all!

    adi v-0

  14. Aditi says:

    *THAT* was *not* me

    Dora is evul

    o.O

  15. Piper says:

    If either side lacked the final flat line, I would’ve considered that the ending.

    … is that strange?

  16. Shreya says:

    Hmm, Art History does sound very interesting. Wish that subject existed in our high school :(
    Simply loved the way you write.

  17. Banerjee says:

    Nice post!! Love the way you started of with that little story. Unique.

  18. Rohan says:

    It is very encouraging to see the “well-rounded” nature of MIT’s course offerings and the students that take them. Have you enrolled in any other humanities classes at MIT? What did you think of them?

  19. José P. says:

    The velocity of the “lines” relative to the whole image is zero, so the “lines” aren’t really ‘going’ anywhere (right now). :D

  20. deng says:

    when I saw the lines, I was scrolling down on the computer… so I saw the top part first, which is originally why I thought it was up to down. but that explanation works too. though (at least for Chinese) only traditional writing is from right to left.

    alright. I just contradicted myself a bit, but that’s just how my thought process works :-D

  21. Anxious says:

    Have ALL the My MIT accounts of the last admissions cycle been deleted yet? I want to reapply but am having trouble doing so.