On October 10th, our discussion of origins brought us to Shalini Le Gall, the curator of academic programs at the Colby Museum of Art. We have explored many different origin stories so far this semester from academic to natural realms, but it’s especially interesting to consider origins in the context of art and museums because of the many different ways they define origins. From one end of the spectrum you can consider origins of art as a whole, or you can think more specifically as the origin of art being a story unique to each piece. Ms. Le Gall explained that many would turn to the use of hieroglyphics as the answer to this question, but it’s actually much more difficult to pin down an exact point that art formed from.
Many could argue that there is not exact origin in art and that instead it is a continuous cycle of artists pursuing the next big “thing” in the world of artistic style like the avant garde or abstract movement. More specifically, the origins of art could also be in each piece of art itself, as each embodies the creation and growth of an artist’s idea into a real, physical form. As a result of the many ways we can consider origins in art, it is a very difficult aspect to track and define. Considering the Colby Museum specifically, it’s origins stem from a gift of American and Maine based art to the college in the 1950s and 1960s. The museum’s original pieces had local significance to the community and to Colby students as it tied them to their Maine and American roots. At this time in United States’ history, it was widely thought that young men needed to be surrounded by art on campus that would help raise good American citizens. Moving from its origin to present day, the museum and art have more of a socio-historical value to the viewer rather than acting as a means of fostering American citizenship.
As we looked throughout the first gallery, there were two works connecting to the origins theme that especially caught my attention due to the connections between the natural environment, origins, and social relevance they created. The first was a photo of Olive Trees, an interesting symbol to consider with it’s role in creation stories as well as the attention it calls to roots. Both the tree itself and its roots connect to the origin of humans on a broad level, but they also draw attention to the idea of individual origin and how our roots and the story act as the point to grow and form from. The second image was Gary Green’s photograph of a prairie burning in Mississippi. Ms. Le Gall explained that Green did a series of photos of prairies and how this method of controlled burning is often used in agriculture today as a way of basically resetting the soil’s nutrients. Looking at the dark, ominous tone of the image, it clearly calls attention to the threat and risks that should be considered with this method, but it also captures the origins theme by showing how human influence can completely reset the origins of the environment. Both of these works were not the most outspoken origin stories in the bunch, but I found them to be of the very interesting origin stories because of the attention they bring to natural symbols of origins.