Berkeley Connect English brings literary thinking to BAMPFA

Students observe paintings from the Slow Reading, Slow Seeing exhibit.

This semester, Berkeley Connect in English has reoriented its syllabus to survey many modes of art. The students are being encouraged to move beyond the familiar practice of analyzing written texts and explore other avenues for understanding human expression.

Last week, Berkeley Connect English students visited the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Archive (BAMPFA). There, Director of Education and Academic Relations Sherry Goodman guided the students through a “close reading” of four paintings from three exhibits.

Goodman first introduced the students to two pieces from the “Hippie Modernism” exhibit. They began by focusing on a San Francisco concert poster from 1966 which integrated distorted text and visuals. The second piece, an oil painting by Isaac Abrams, incorporated bright, pastel colors and abstract patterns. Goodman contrasted these pieces with a work by Andy Warhol, who used his background in commercial design to create art that commented on consumerism and pop culture.

By comparing the abstract paintings of Isaac Abrams and the glorified commercial drawings of Warhol, students identified some of the underlying themes which pervaded mid-century art. The diverse pieces provided a visual medium through which to understand two distinct but closely related social groups: the counterculture advocates of the hippie movement and the consumer class of mainstream culture. Just as literature contextualizes a time through the written word, the visual language of art and design provides another way to understand an era.

Duo, 1928 by René Magritte displayed in the Slow Reading, Slow Seeing exhibit.

The students ended the day with Duo, a 1928 ink drawing by René Magritte. This piece was from the exhibit “Slow Reading, Slow Seeing.” Goodman explained that this show was unique in that the pieces were compiled by UC Berkeley students in Professor Lyn Hejinian’s English 190 course. Each student closely read and analyzed a poem and an art piece for an entire semester, developing a unique relationship with their selections.

For students accustomed to carefully exploring literary texts, “Slow Reading, Slow Seeing” demonstrated the rewards of bringing the same attention to a work of art. The trip brought the visual arts into a new light and was a great learning experience for all who participated.

posted by Gloria Choi

Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant