Visual Culture of Print: Trip to Mead Art Museum

This week, my Hampshire College course took a trip to the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College!

The course I’m taking, HACU 233, is called “Media Overload: Digital-Age Reflections on the Explosion of Print.” Our main focus has been analyzing the fears of print culture and the act of writing through 17th-century British authors and poets, juxtaposed with today’s hyperawareness of social media culture. Our adventure at the Mead looked into the visual culture of print – how is the act of reading and creating text presented in artwork?

After wandering around the Amherst College campus, for awhile, I made my way to the museum’s entrance. It’s kind of tucked away towards the back of the campus – but the building is marked by the Stearns Steeple, a vestige of the campus’s original chapel. Upon arrival, Amy Halliday, the Acting Curator of Academic Programs started off our visit by giving the class a quick tour of the museum. I didn’t get to spend much time outside of the study room, but I did get to hear some of the major events in the museum’s history – its establishment, the major donations, and the curating of some of the current exhibits on display. The inside of the museum is absolutely gorgeous – I will definitely have to revisit it by the end of the semester. After the majority of the class arrived, we moved into the study room to view our paintings.

She gave us a quick rundown of the rules of a study room – things I’ve become well-accustomed to, working in a library – and started us off We specifically looked at the six pictures William Hogarth’s Marriage A-la Mode. As a whole, the work depicts the ill-suited marriage of the son of a earl and the daughter of a merchant. A satire of arranged marriages, Hogarth tells a tale of deceit and adultery, primarily through the use of paper – the marriage contract, the unpaid bills, the receipt, and several others.

 After analyzing these paintings, we looked at several other works depicting readers. We talked about the activeness and the passiveness of reading, the gender depictions, and reflections of reading in ourselves. Following up on our class discussions, we were able to talk about how the artists felt about reading and writing and text in general. It was actually really fascinating – as most of the artwork were more modern than the ones we dealt with in class, it was neat to see that the ideas are constantly present in our culture.

I’m hoping to follow up this visit with one to the Frost Library Special Collections. My professor provided a list of objects that would also supplement the idea of print and visual culture, and I’m always up for a visit to a library.

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