Understanding Culture by Observing Art

Understanding culture is an important aspect of the abroad experience, and one way this can be done is by observing art. This is exactly what we do in the Cultural Immersion through the Fine Arts class here in Dublin, Ireland. Since the start of term the class has visited more than half a dozen galleries and museums, watched several short films in light of the Jameson Film Festival, and are currently working on a hands on project involving linoleum block printing.

Right before Spring Break the Fine Arts class had the wonderful opportunity of seeing a true master of Art first hand. The National Gallery of Photography was showing the work of world-renowned photographer Steve McCurry. Student Emily Quinn, who is currently enrolled in the Fine Arts course, explained that, “You get to know the people in his pictures, understand the lives that are lived in these places.” The exhibit depicts images from countries all over the world, and people of all different walks of life. From two men sitting on the front of a steam engine whizzing by the Taj Mahal to a man sitting on the tracks leading to the Auschwitz Concentration camp in Poland, this exhibit is full of captivating images; images so powerful that some could give you goose bumps. The stories that are behind the people in the images are what truly inspire Steve McCurry. He says, “I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face.”

Steve McCurry is best known, however, for his photograph “Afghan Girl” which has been said to be the most recognizable image in the entire world. It depicts a young Afghan girl dressed in a red shawl, with unbelievably green eyes. This picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1984 and since then it has become the face to represent all of the women of the Middle East. The exhibit at the National Gallery of Photograph displays the image of the Afghan Girl, as well as the photograph taken seventeen years later of the woman, who was once the Afghan Girl. Seeing these images together is a great example of how photography can tell an amazing story.

The class has been great experience for a number of reasons: 1) Rather than sitting in a classroom listening to a textbook lecture on various branches of art history, the students are out of the classroom and actually seeing the work first hand. 2) There’s always something new going on in art scene in Dublin. Whether it’s a new gallery opening, a new exhibit or Film festival. 3) Not only do we get to see the art, we get to make it too!

Art is an outlet through which people can express themselves, in addition to putting their creative skill and imagination into reality, no matter what this vision might be. With more art in the world, the more enriched it becomes. In the Cultural Immersion through the Fine Arts course, students have the great opportunity to learn about and appreciate art, and have fun while doing it too.


Kaisa Jarrell – Graphic Design Major, Champlain College Class of 2012

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