Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Peyton Lawrenz ’19

Santa Fe, New Mexico • Politics View Profile

Claude Monet and Andy Warhol

A tour through Princeton's Art Museum.
Over intersession this year, I spent five days with artists Claude Monet and Andy Warhol, and the mosaics from Antioch on the Orontes, an ancient Greco-Roman city, to complete training to become a guide in the Princeton University Art Museum. The Museum, established alongside the Department of Art and Archeology in 1882, has evolved from the early collection to now encompass more than 97,000 art objects in its “encyclopedic” collection. 
The Museum exists as an extension of the academic boundaries of the University. It is a center of cultural life — a microcosmic collection of the shared cultural patrimony of the world, and the site of intersections of discussions and debates. 
Art has been a formative force in the development of my academic interests. In the spring semester of my first year at Princeton, I took a seminar on American Realism titled “The Perils of Painting.” My professor, Rachael DeLue, challenged us to question the interactions between words and ideas and art: How do you talk about representation? How do you talk about what is “real”? Like many courses at Princeton, this course challenged me not only to understand the course material, but also to evolve new conceptual approaches to questions.
Monet’s "Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge," a painting in the European Art Gallery in the Princeton Art Museum, embodies these questions and conversations. Monet, a leading figure in the Impressionist Movement revolutionized the understanding of light and color, shifting away from traditional Neoclassical emphasis on shadow and narrative. Monet represents the intersections between tradition and innovation and between understanding and interpretation. This piece engages closely with those intersections, as Monet intertwines light with color and engages with a unique temporal dialogue between the style’s fixation with the “immediate impression” and the external permanence of the art form. 
“Intersection” is one of my favorite words because it so broadly encapsulates the way that peoples, cultures and ideas interact. As a senior in high school, I was confident that I would pursue a concentration in comparative literature at Princeton because comparative literature encompasses the kinds of conversations that I am passionate about — conversations about the way different languages and cultures interact or about the way words and ideas inform and influence each other. I thrive on the kinds of questions that confront understanding and prompt connections and interactions. I thrive on the questions that both seek to examine and create intersections. 
The museum has extended the intellectual boundaries of my education, providing me with the forum to continue to discuss these questions. The museum allowed me to see new forms of intersections. There is nothing predetermined about interpretation. There is nothing predetermined about art.