Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art Speculations from the Non-Curator

By: Kate Betz, Manger of Public Programs
I grew up with two ideas of Rome in my head.

Idea 1: Rome was the birthplace of democracy and its great buildings (now relics) should be celebrated—nay, enshrined—as icons to be lauded.

Idea 2: Rome was full of drunken debauchery, violence, and anything except democracy.

Our museum curators recently showed me some of the amazing paintings that will be featured in this summer’s exhibit America’s Rome. To me, these paintings represent part of the dichotomy of Rome that has been a part of the American collective consciousness throughout my life. I think that Idea 1 is the inspiration that drove most of the paintings that I’ve seen of the exhibit so far. An amazing society grew and flourished right there where these nineteenth-century American painters stood painting landscapes. Though this society is gone, the remnants of it remain, and these remnants are still worth preserving.

As far as Idea 2 is concerned, I think that Rome as a debauchery is appealing for the same reason that I like to hear about the quirks of famous people. Call me crazy, but I like knowing that everyone has flaws and yet our society continues to function and progress continues to be made. Those Romans sure could party, but they could also create an unparalleled system of aqueducts and some really stellar philosophers along the way. Now, it is possible, of course, that the only reason I have this idea in my head is because I just finished watching Season 2 of HBO’s miniseries Rome last week. However, if Thomas Cole’s series Course of Empire is any indication, I think that these painters were struggling with the same thing. I could just be making this up, but these simply remain, speculations from the non-curator…

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