Cari Wolfe talks about looking at art 2010.03.24

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

With every work of art, there’s the visible and there’s also the invisible.puryear.ladder.jpg

Cari Wolfe, a curator and educator with Michigan State University’s Kresge Art Museum, challenged her audience last week at Morenci’s Stair Public Library to  go beyond the obvious and look for the invisible.

“You can’t have the visible without the invisible,” she said. “Think about what you’re visibly seeing but also what you can’t see.”

With the visible, Wolfe spoke about the struggle to set aside existing knowledge.

“Tell me what you see, not what you know,” she said. “It’s very difficult with art.”

She used Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother, 1936” photograph as an example. The iconic photo shows a mother and her three children, suggesting the despair experienced from continuous poverty.

Don’t think about your preconceived notions of the Great Depression when studying the photo, Wolfe said.

“Sit with it, relax with it, spend some time with it,” she said. “Art isn’t doing anything; you have to do the work. When you think you’ve looked enough, look again.”

Wolfe spoke of the need to search information about the work to uncover the invisible. What’s the background of the artist? What was the intent of the artist? Was there a patron involved? What was the culture in which the piece was made? Is there a theme?

“These are all things that are invisible at first when you look at a piece of art,” she said. “To make the invisible visible, I think you really need all of these things together to be able to truly read a work of art.

“It’s fine to walk by it and look at it and find the color beautiful and then you walk on by. But to fully appreciate it, you need all of it. It puts another perspective on it.”

Wolfe explained the background of several Picturing America reproductions and she asked audience members for their ideas.

Wolfe sees the Picturing America as a powerful program for understanding American culture.

Many of the 40 reproductions of American art are on display at Morenci’s Stair Public Library and many other libraries and schools across the country.

Although Wolfe is a promoter and educator with the Picturing America program, she’s quick to point out a shortcoming.

“Go to the museum,” she urged. “See the texture of the painting. See how the paint was applied. See the depth of the photo.”

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