Archive for August, 2011

Creativity: My first encounters and my first discoveries

Magdalena Grohman leading a class in the Center for Creative Connections

Magdalena Grohman is a creativity expert who spends the occasional Thursday evening at the DMA helping inspire visitors participating in Thursday Night Live’s Artistic Encounters. But how did Magdalena discover her own creativity? She shared that journey with us below.

I received one of my very first lessons about creativity in elementary school. I was made to believe that creativity was only for those artistically or musically talented. You were born with it or you were not. I did not possess these talents, but at the same time I enjoyed writing in my diary, sketching (especially different layouts and arrangements for my dream room), creating collages, and so on. But that wasn’t considered creative. Only art, only music, and only if you were naturally talented.

The cracks in this belief system started to appear in high school when I met students and teachers who encouraged creative expression through other domains such as dance, movement, and theater. Suddenly, I realized I could express myself, share my state of mind, tell a story, and provoke others to think in new, creative ways. The true breakthrough came when a group of professors from Jagiellonian University in Krakow came to my high school to lead a workshop that taught creative thinking. With the workshops came a new wave of thinking about creativity and my first and foremost discovery about it: creativity was in everyone and could be enhanced.

This meant you could be CREATIVE in any number of ways, be it telling stories, designing birthday cards, finding new ways to teach, writing a song, formulating hypotheses, communicating diagnosis . . . the list goes on. This also meant that you could nurture creative potential at any stage in life. “But,” the professors warned, “You need to put some work into it.” What they meant was that creativity could be honed and developed by shaping core attitudes about creativity such as open-mindedness, self-discipline, and perseverance.

So, the first step to increase your creative potential is to liberate yourself from any belief system that is detrimental to creativity. The second step is to nurture positive attitudes toward creativity. These include (according to creativity researchers and educators) sticking to your creative endeavor no matter what and being open-minded, observant, curious, and self-disciplined. With this in mind, you will see that the next steps are much, much easier.

Take the next step tomorrow night when Magdalena will lead Thursday Night Live Artistic Encounters: Think Creatively with Tom Cox and Peter Goldstein at 6:30 p.m. in the Center for Creative Connections.

Shelagh Jessop is the Center for Creative Connections Coordinator at the Dallas Museum of Art

Seldom Scene: School Dais

With school back in full swing we thought we would showcase the students from Dallas ISD’s Skyline Architecture Cluster who created Sculpting Space: 299 Chairs. See the installation in person in the Center for Creative Connections on Level 1 through mid-November.

Picture This

For many artists a picture was not finished when the paint had dried and the varnish was applied. The culminating step was framing the artwork. Only then was the project complete. Traditionally the artist had many options. He could choose a stock frame from a local cabinetmaker, or make a thoughtful selection from a skilled framer. Artists often possessed such a keen interest to frame a painting in a manner that perfectly complemented it that they designed their own.

The 18th-century British portrait painter George Romney (1734-1802) routinely joined forces with his preferred London framer William Saunders to produce frames of the artist’s design. Frame historians have studied Saunders’ detailed ledgers that record many of these collaborations. Romney’s decorative concepts coupled with Saunders carving expertise resulted in several exquisite frames. Regrettably, as a painting changed hands the new owner would often reframe it to suit prevailing tastes or to match the room where the artwork hung.

This may have been the fate of the original frame that once surrounded Romney’s Young Man with a Flute, which is now on view in the DMA’s European Galleries. Until recently, a simple wooden frame adorned with a gilt sight edge (the part of the frame closest to the canvas) surrounded the painting. That frame was more in keeping with the sparse ones typically used by artists working in colonial America.

George Romney, Young Man with a Flute, late 1760s in its simple wooden frame

Wishing to restore the painting to Romney’s well-documented vision for his completed works, the Museum recently purchased a frame from a London dealer with an expertise in the artist’s designs. Now a “Romney Style” frame surrounds the painting. It is a faithful reproduction of the artist’s 18th-century original. The archetype became synonymous with the painter thus earning its eponymous name.

Young Man with a Flute surrounded by its “Romney Style” frame

The approximately four-inch-wide burnished gilt neoclassical frame draws the viewer’s eye into the portrait. Its decorative elements include a rope-twist back molding, superbly carved gadrooning that traverses the circumference on the outside rim, a plain frieze, a small bead course, and a delicately reeded sight edge. The reproduction “Romney Style” frame harmonizes with the painting in a manner unrivaled by its wooden unornamented predecessor.

Compared to Romney, there are scant extant records of the frame choices made by the 19th-century artist Paul Signac (1863-1935). Last year, when the DMA acquired the French artist’s Comblat-le-Château, Le pré, it had a Régence Style frame that was popular very early in the 18th century.

Second from the right, Paul Signac’s Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré in its Régence style frame.

Its decorative components included a course of cross-hatching and punch work covering the entire frame. A fussy pattern of shells, fans, palmettes, C-scrolls, and foliage ornamented the center rails and corners, while a linen liner at the sight edge completed the overall design scheme. Although a lovely frame, it is not the prototypical choice made by a post-impressionist artist who worked in the wake of the pioneering painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Not only was Degas enormously influential to art history but he also revolutionized frame design. In fact, he believed that it was an artist’s duty to see his pictures properly framed. Earlier this year, the DMA heeded Degas’s mandate and purchased a new frame for its Signac.

Comblat-le-Château, Le Pré with its Degas style frame.

The picture’s new frame is a reproduction based on one of Degas’s most inventive designs. It features a lightly rounded profile embellished with rows of thin parallel grooves. The frame’s roundedness and fine fluting echo Degas’s “cockscomb” pattern, which he softly gilded but rarely burnished. Because of its shape, some call this format a “cushion” molding. The frame’s innovative streamlined repetitive forms do not compete with Signac’s lovely painting; rather their simplicity harmonizes with the picture to enhance it. While these before-and-after photographs illustrate the difference a frame can make, they pale when compared to seeing firsthand each striking painting now with its stylistically appropriate frame. On your next visit to the DMA, come view these superb frames and the paintings they surround.

Martha MacLeod is the Curatorial Administrative Assistant in the European and American Art Department at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Connect: Teachers, Technology, and Art

In September, the DMA will wrap up a two-year project called Connect: Teachers, Technology, and Art that focuses on the redesign and enhancement of web-based teaching materials available to K-12 educators on the DMA website. The end result of this project, which has been made possible by a generous grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), will be a dynamic new model for the internal development and external presentation of online teaching materials.

There are thirty units in total on the DMA’s teaching resources website, exploring every genre of art in our expansive collection. Over the past two years, DMA staff have been working specifically on redesigning units for African and South Asian art.

Vishnu as Varaha, India, Madhya Pradesh, 10th century, sandstone, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation and the Alconda-Owsley Foundation, E. E. Fogelson and Greer Garson Fogelson Fund, General Acquisitions Fund, Wendover Fund, and gift of Alta Brenner in memory of her daughter Andrea Bernice Brenner-McMullen, 2002.25

The completed project will present over sixty artworks from the collection. Teachers will have the option to sort artworks according to religion, geography, time period, themes, and other categories.

Here’s what our teaching resource website looked like before:

 And here’s the template that will launch this fall:

We are very excited to launch this new content next month, and are extraordinary thankful for the many teachers in our community who have helped informed our work along the way. This grant truly has allowed us to transform the way we communicate with and educate our audiences.

For more information, check out our sister blog for educators.

Anne Palamara is Director of Foundation and Government Relations at the Dallas Museum of Art

Behind Closed Doors: Archives

Go behind the Museum office doors and discover the various work spaces in the DMA. Each month we will share insight into a different department.

This month, Hillary Bober, Digital Archivist, shares her space with us.

Photography by Adam Gingrich, Marketing Assistant at the Dallas Museum of Art

Staff Profile: Prepping Up

Uncrated tracked down Preparator, Mary Nicolett, to talk about her job at the Museum. Mary is a key member of the installation team and is known for her keen eye and attention to detail.

Describe your job in 50 words or less.
My official title is “Preparator, Logistics Facilitator,” which is a fancy way of saying that when I am not busy as a preparator moving, installing or taking care of the art, that I am ordering supplies or tools in preparation for the teams’ upcoming tasks.

What might an average day entail?
My days and weeks vary, depending upon what installation we are working on.  I may be moving works in storage, building archival boxes for delicate items, researching the newest drills, touch-up painting the walls, or installing an intricate or obsessive artwork.  There are always the deliveries and pick-ups that interrupt the flow of the day, but I am lucky that I get to uncrate works of art, which sometimes makes me the first person in the building that gets to see something new! Only one thing is consistent in my day: the coffee during our afternoon break.

How would you describe the best part of your job and its biggest challenges?
I am continually learning. My coworkers have a wide variety of talents, and both the exhibitions and collections departments work wonderfully together as a team. I learn something new during most installations. The variety of artworks that enter the building vary in age, material and construction and thus their needs differ. This diversity continually specifies what techniques or care are needed in order to preserve the works, keeping us on our toes.

Growing up, what type of career did you envision yourself in? Did you think you’d work in an art museum?
I was too busy being a kid to think about a career, but I was very influenced by my father who worked as an architectural draftsman and took some evening terracotta studio courses from Octavio Medellin. My ease in math, geometry and spatial relationships steered me towards a degree in sculpture, but even then I did not think about working at a museum.

What is your favorite work in the DMA collection?
That is a tough question, as the answer probably changes with my moods!  The lovely Indonesian textiles from the Sarawak area, with their wealth of history, intricacy of detail, and process of dying the wefts prior to weaving are inspirational to me. I have continual fondness for the graceful serenity of the Henry Moore maquettes. But, I have to admit, my first week at the museum I just HAD to see Tom Wesselmann’s Mouth #11, as I remember it from an elementary school tour, when the DMA was at Fair Park.

Is there a past exhibition that stands out in your mind as a favorite or is there a particular upcoming show you’re looking forward to seeing?
The J. M. W. Turner exhibition was fantastic! The layout and gallery design with the moldings created a perfect environment for his works. I like contemporary art more than landscapes and port scenes, but his paintings continually stopped me in my tracks while doing my duties. The upcoming Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit has many challenges for us ahead, and our designer, curator and exhibition team are still in the process of deciding all the intricate details that go into such a show. With this being our first big “fashion” exhibition, I look forward to dressing the mannequins and getting an up-close view of the pieces, some of which are more like strange sculptural forms than clothing.

Seldom Scene: A Tip of the Hat

African Headwear: Beyond Fashion opened yesterday and will be on view through January 1, 2012. The exhibition celebrates the artistry of African decorative design and initiates us into the world of fashion a few months before we host Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. Below are a few images showing the preparation that went into creating the African Headwear exhibition.


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