A Newfound Appreciation

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Photo by Dakota Kahler

Film photo taken of the work of art that encouraged the construction of the museum.

Recently I visited Iowa City to tour the campus of The University of Iowa. My alumni brother accompanied me and showed me all the best spots in Iowa City, and the Stanley Museum of Art was one of them.

I will admit I am not one to tour an art museum. I enjoy looking at cool things that people produce, but there always seems to be a touch of boredom that accompanies it. But for my brother, it was a really big deal that we visit this place, so obviously I was excited with him. I’ve toured the Art Center in Des Moines, but that–in my opinion– does not compare to the Stanley Museum.

What I consider art is not “conventional art.” Meaningful words on a page speak more to me about something rather than looking at a paint-splattered canvas that many Average Joes believe they could do themselves. But this conventional art also spoke the language I can best understand– stories.

Photo by Dakota Kahler

I learned a lot about African culture at the first exhibit I visited. The room was full of intricate masks embellished with beads, straw, and wooden carvings. There were slips of paper beside each piece of artwork that described the work and its cultural purpose. It amazed me how much time is put into making these masks. They are usually worn to do traditional dances for celebrations. It told a story of culture. My brother was able to take his film camera into the museum and took a photo of these masks.

I was too busy admiring the African clay pots to remember to snap a picture, but they were incredibly intricate and dated back centuries ago. Not only was it art I was looking at, but also history.

Another work of art that absolutely floored me was a sculpture by a University of Iowa graduate and African American trailblazer, Elizabeth Catlett. The sleek, bronze-colored sculpture was of a woman; I couldn’t tell if it was created in an image of herself, but it was amazing regardless. My brother began to tell me that during Catlett’s time attending the university, she was not allowed to live in the dorms due to her being a black woman. She continued to make the long walk to campus each and every day to sculpt and produce astounding work. In 2016, the university honored Catlett by naming a residence hall after her.

This sculpture spoke to me a lot about something I will never understand– being a black woman in America. The look on the statue’s face appears to be tired, yet determined. A feeling I assume many people of color face in this country.

The whole reason the Stanley Museum of Art was built was because of a specific Jackson Pollock painting called Mural. The old art museum flooded in 2008, and the museum debated selling the Pollock to help pay for new construction. Considering it is worth about a hundred million dollars, it could have greatly helped the build. But, donators and investors persuaded the museum not to sell the highly coveted painting, and a new museum was built with a place especially for the Pollock.

When I first visited this canvas, I was done looking at it in about ten seconds. It wasn’t anything interesting to me. I wanted to see the sculptures and visual media the museum had to offer. But, my brother encouraged me to stand in front of the painting for a little longer. The more I looked, the more I saw. The painting no longer looked like unintentional brush strokes and paint splatters, but rather a carefully thought-out and crafted piece of art. Every single stroke has a meaning. Knowing the backstory of the painting, it seemed to symbolize hope and unity in a way. The painting is often shared with other museums around the country and even all around the world.

This experience was eye-opening to me and made me realize that not one art form is better than another. A novel makes you think just as much as a painting does, just differently. I have found a new appreciation for conventional art.