Almost two weeks ago I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time. Did I also mention that I was one of four chaperones for thirty-one seventh graders on this trip? Eight of those students fell under “my care” during our visit.
I’ve done my fair share of field trips with students over the years and this one was a pleasure because I wasn’t the one in charge and the students were well-behaved. Another positive was riding a chartered bus into the city rather than a school bus.
It was a glorious New York day, too. Even though the temperatures were crisp, the sun shone brightly and the sky was a bright blue. The view of the skyline as we crossed one of the bridges (I can’t remember the name of the bridge) into Manhattan was spectacular. Before entering the museum, we gathered the students on the steps for a picture. I wondered how many times I had seen the front of this museum featured in TV shows or movies only this time I was standing there in person.
Once inside the museum, I could tell right away that the staff was used to handling school groups on a daily basis. We were ushered into a “holding area” where we were given pins to wear (I guess they were our ticket for the day), and the appropriate directions: no gum, no ringing cell phones, and no flash photography. Then we headed off to our destination.
Our purpose was to view specific galleries in the newly-opened American Wing. In case you don’t know, this museum is HUGE! Two of the chaperones had been to the museum numerous times covering a span of years, and still felt like they hadn’t scratched the surface. I don’t know what it was about this trip, but I was moved in a way that I haven’t been before in an art museum.
I think it was a combination of elements for me. The students were required to view specific pieces of art that tied into books they had read and discussed. A good portion of the packet involved writing. The students were given various writing prompts along with thought-provoking questions. Students needed to spend time studying the various pieces of art in order to get “inside” the piece before they could respond in writing. As I studied the different art pieces alongside the students, my appreciation for the art grew. I found myself amazed by the ability of the artist to communicate such profound images in a painting or in a sculpture. After seeing the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware many times in history books, I was actually standing in front of it seeing it for real! The painting takes up an entire wall in the museum. Everything about this painting is large—its size, its scale, its characters. Standing up close to the painting was even more impressive. The level of detail contained in one small section was mind-boggling. How does an artist do this?
I’m sure one of the reasons I was so moved by this visit was the fact that I am an adult looking at art rather than a junior high student. I was just like the students on the trip at one time too—interested up to a point, but ready to move on to the next thing. Now I have some life experience under my belt and I see the attention to detail on the part of the artist. I also recognize the various emotions portrayed in the paintings and sculptures because I have experienced them—joy, fear, sadness, longing, uncertainty.
I found myself thoughtful on the return trip home. It was as if I knew I experienced something in the Met that I hadn’t before, and I didn’t want to move too quickly past this moment without taking time to pause and reflect.