I should admit, from the very start, that I know very little, if anything, about visual arts. Beyond a hazy memory of how color wheels work (“ROY G. BIV!”) and a vague familiarity with a handful of names of the most famous artists, I can confidently say that my understanding of the visual arts is elementary at best.
For that reason, I’ve kept a respectful distance from the Princeton University Art Museum. Maybe because I found it confusing or because I found it a bit intimidating (or, more likely, a mix of both), I never stepped foot into the gallery at the Art Museum. To be totally honest, I did briefly enter the gallery in the fall of my first year, but that was during the Nassau Street Sampler, an event the Art Museum holds, when I was simply focused on trying all of the food at the event.
So, when two of my friends from Princeton Christian Fellowship, who happened to be tour guides at the Art Museum, offered to take a group of us on a tour, I hesitantly agreed. However, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend that hour walking around a silent room, looking at paintings and sculptures that I knew nothing about.
Instead, contrary to my previous ideas about art, the tour couldn’t have been more exciting. The tour guides used each piece to transport us into a different society at a different point in human history, masterfully weaving in interesting factoids about the art we were looking at into the fascinating stories about humans long ago. Rather than quietly tip-toeing around a maze of incomprehensible frames, I got to see the Art Museum for what it was—a collection of windows into a time and place past.
As we walked by the Princeton Vase, one of Claude Monet’s original "Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies" paintings, and Andy Warhol’s "Blue Marilyn," I found myself truly enjoying and appreciating the art on display and the Art Museum itself. Of course, my experience was especially enhanced by the fact that I was able to ask any and all of my “stupid” questions—“Why is that entirely black square of a painting considered art?”—but the tour guides graciously answered them all. The “entirely black square of a painting” was Ad Reinhardt’s "Abstract Painting" that actually has multiple shades of black and is a demonstration of Reinhardt’s technical ability to make typically shiny oil paints matte.
I ended up staying after the hour was up, excited to walk around the museum on my own. While I certainly am no expert after having gone on just one tour, the Princeton University Art Museum, like so many things on this campus, has opened my eyes to a whole new world that I can’t wait to explore further.