Having looked at Geology and Physics in their last session (read more about it here), this week the members of the Year 9 Athenaeum focussed paradigm shifts in art.

The students began by looking at a painting by Thomas Gainsborough “Mr and Mrs Andrews” around 1750 and considering what criteria might have been used, both at the time it was painted and now to try and evaluate it. The suggestions focussed on composition, technique, colour and perhaps most significantly for this exercise, realism. They then looked at Impression, Sunrise 1872 by Claude Monet a painting credited with inspiring the name of the Impressionist movement.

Here the students felt that light and colour were very important but deemed it not as realistic. They also referred to the sense created by the painting. Moving on to “The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh 1889 and part of the post-impressionist movement, the overriding sense of the students was of the power of the colours deployed. Realism as thought of with Gainsborough seemed to them to have little relevance. The students were shocked by the next work “Brown, Red, Black” by Mark Rothko 1959, which seemed stripped of everything but colour, but one or two began to talk about the feelings of the person looking at the painting and that of course was the key point. The “meaning” of this work and in the works by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin which we finished off examining, seems to be increasingly found in the response of the person looking at the work.

This suggests that there is no one fixed meaning and moreover that the work can in some sense live on in the experiences of all who view it. This idea, that the viewer or observer is crucial is of course well known in the world of Physics in something called the “Measurement Problem” thus making a nice link to our previous session.