After clicking “submit” on my last assignment of the day, I leaned back in my desk chair, looking past the trees outside my window at the buildings beyond. It was noon, the sun was shining, and the rest of my “to-do” list could wait—I knew where I wanted to go. Dada…Gauguin…Singer Sargent. That’s right, I grabbed my ID and was off to the Yale University Art Gallery. Down four flights of stairs, out the door, across the quad, left one block, right another, and I was there. Four minutes, flat.
At Yale, it’s easy to feel that there is simply not enough time in the day to fit in everything you want to do and are already committed to doing, much less to try something totally new. Yet, new places to explore are all around—some can even be seen from your bedroom window. The Yale University Art Gallery (or “the YUAG”) is an amazing resource on campus for students from all fields of study and levels of artistic experience. Founded in 1832, the YUAG is the oldest university art museum in the western hemisphere. It is open from mid-morning to evening, six days a week, and is completely free to the public. Minutes from Old Campus (home to the majority of Yale College freshman), it makes the perfect spot to take a tour, explore on your own, study, or simply meditate/relax amid hundreds of gorgeous and thought-provoking pieces. For those who want a more structured YUAG experience, going on a Gallery Guide tour is a “must.” Gallery Guides are Yale undergraduates who are paid employees of the YUAG and are responsible for organizing and giving a personalized tour of certain aspects of the YUAG (called an “Angles on Art Tour”). Examples of past tours include “Wordplay,” a tour examining the role of language in art throughout history and the idea of textual communication through art, and “Biophilia,” a tour concentrating on different representations of the human/nature interaction. Faculty lectures and workshops on everything from sketching to printmaking are also provided.
The YUAG’s collections span history and come from around the world. Included among the YUAG’s over 185,000 objects are pieces by Hopper, Degas, Rothko, and Lichtenstein. In addition to the gallery’s permanent collection, special exhibits are regularly prepared, and often feature interdisciplinary connections. For example, a 2009 exhibit included several works by Pablo Picasso accompanied by relevant portions of Gertrude Stein’s writing and their correspondence (provided by the Yale University Library), effectively melding themes in history, art, social thought, and literature into one comprehensive experience.
In addition to the breathtaking variety of paintings available at the YUAG, a multitude of other art forms is present. These include sculpture, etching, coins and metals, furniture, and even the architecture of the YUAG buildings themselves. The YUAG comprises three buildings on Yale’s campus: Street Hall (1866), the Old Yale Art Gallery Building (1928), and the Louis Kahn Building (1953), which are built in the neo-Gothic, Florentine, and modernist traditions, respectively.
While the YUAG is certainly a unique institution on campus (where else can a student go to see an original van Gogh?), it is similar to many other Yale facilities in several key ways. First, it exemplifies the quality and amount of resources available to Yalies of all levels of interest and experience. STEM majors can spend hours surrounded by original 1800s British oil paintings; arts majors can see their projects come to life at the Center for Engineering and Design (the CEID). Likewise, musicians of any skill level can utilize the practice rooms present in each residential college (and the pianos in any of the residential college common rooms!), and non-athletes can make use of the facilities at any residential college gym or the campus-wide Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Poets can take classes taught by Nobel-winning scientists, and pre-meds can attend Masters Teas by Oscar-winning actors, artists, and writers. You get the idea. Moral of the story? It is very rare that opportunities at Yale are exclusively offered to students majoring in a specific discipline. This is because Yale values the innovative projects and interdisciplinary discoveries that come when focused students are able to explore interests outside their main academic domain(s) of study.
I like to think that my time spent looking into Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley is just as important as my time spent attending a lecture on cell biology. Both are inviting me to see the world through a different perspective. After my lecture, I can’t help but think about how the intricacies of life—the mind-blowing precision of the processes that make it possible for me not only to sense the stimuli in my environment, but to have cognition and reasoning and morality—all arise from microscopic sacs of chemicals. After my time at the YUAG, that perspective is molded even more intricately. In only a couple of hours, I have seen the rise and fall of entire civilizations captured in oil paint, a society’s range of joys and sorrows composed using colored clay, and, finally, the soft yet persistent glow of Yosemite, encapsulating a sense of opportunity and adventure that has persisted throughout the ages and across the pursuits of countless lives.
Make sure to check out the YUAG’s website at http://artgallery.yale.edu for more information