Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art Exploring the Good Life through Art

Art, in its many forms, allows artists to express themes relating what makes life good, what makes life bad, and what makes life life. The Harn Museum portrays pieces from around the world, carrying emotions, culture, customs, beliefs, and values across time and space. The power of art is fully articulated in each picture, painting, statue, weaving, and stitching.

Medium of the Art

"Calaveras del monton", by Jose Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1852-1913). Zinc etching.

I found the medium of this piece, "Calaveras del Monton", to be particularly striking. The vibrant, rich color of the zinc adds to the striking drama of the scene displayed. "Calaveras del monton" translates to "Skulls of the mountain", and in this piece we see featured most prominently a skeleton with an exaggerated, oversized skull in traditional clothing. This piece communicates aspects of Mexican culture, especially related to celebrations of the dead, most notably Dias de Los Muertos (Days of the Dead). This medium communicated to me the drama and excitement of these celebrations in the intense coloration of the zinc and the hard, bold lines etched into them. Unfortunately, much of that vividness was lost in my poor camera quality, however, seeing it in person, the bold colors were much better conveyed. They helped me feel the intensity of these cultural celebrations and drew me in so that I wanted to know more about what it's like to experience Mexican culture.

"Calaveras del monton", by Jose Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1852-1913). Zinc etching.

Design of the Museum

A wide-open area of the museum with a variety of pieces on display, many of which were more modern, such as etchings of Times Square.

While I was, like most other visitors, fascinated by the outdoor displays, this wing of the museum was particularly appealing to me because of the wide-open space. The ceiling was unusually tall so that, walking in, I felt very small and at the same time free to move around in an unrestricted space. The art is arranged more eclectically than in the other wings of the museum so that, moving from piece to piece, I experienced many different themes, emotions, and techniques. The more modern architecture complimented the modern art and styles on display. This exhibit pulled me into a sense of discovery and exploration as I moved through the large space and took in its diverse displays.

A selfie in the open-area part of the museum.

Art and Core Values

"Frida painting The Two Fridas", Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965). Gelatin silver print, c. 1939.

There are many pieces of Frida Kahlo in the museum, but I chose this one in particular because it shows Kahlo doing something important to her: expressing herself through painting. In this picture, Kahlo looks confidently, almost defiantly, at the camera, and is clearly not ashamed of her work. This picture appeals to my core value of self-expression. Frida Kahlo was a woman who was not afraid to express herself, in her work and in her lifestyle, even during a time when some of her beliefs and behaviors - such as her open bisexuality - would have been shamed and attacked. This piece helped me better understand the avenues of self-expression and how one can express oneself in many different ways. Here, Kahlo is not only expressing her sense of duality in her painting, but her facial expression also imparts that aforementioned defiance and self-awareness. It helped me understand that I want to be like Frida Kahlo in how she carried herself so fearlessly and boldly pursued her art. This picture makes me feel the same casual courage that Kahlo herself clearly possessed.

"Frida painting The Two Fridas", Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965). Gelatin silver print, c. 1939.

Art and the Good Life

"Sheep Wranglers", Justine Kurland (American, born 1969). Satin finish UV laminated C-print.
"Sheep Wranglers", Justine Kurland (American, born 1969). Satin finish UV laminated C-print.

I chose both these pieces - "Sheep Wranglers" and "Going to the Fair" - as representations of the depiction of the Good Life because they share themes that resonate with me. In both of these pieces, we see scenes of people interacting in a friendly and jovial manner alongside a calm, picturesque nature scene. These themes communicate the Good Life by portraying friendly relationships and the beauty of nature, both of which I find to be essential aspects of the Good Life. If I had to boil it down to a word, I would say the overall theme in these pieces is "peacefulness" - the kind of peacefulness in a society where one can enjoy the people and environment around them in a carefree manner. These pieces helped me appreciate this theme by bringing out strong emotions when I saw them; I was filled with a sense of longing to be similarly carefree and surrounded by a beautiful, natural environment. It helped me realize how important these features of life are to me and to picture the ideal life that I want for myself and others: one without conflict, worry, or strife.

"Going to the Fair", Helen Hyde (American, 1868-1919). Color woodcut.
"Going to the Fair", Helen Hyde (American, 1868-1919). Color woodcut.


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