Choosing a Museum: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, BECHS, Buffalo Museum of Science, or Albright-Knox?

An artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.                   ~Charles Burchfield

If, a year ago, someone were to tell me that I could choose any museum to go to for the day, I’d immediately choose the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.  I have spent much time in that museum, as I feel that I have an inner connection to history, primarily Buffalo history.  But, as I live, grow, and become well-rounded, I have come to realize that history, science, and art are all inner related.  They are all elements of one larger picture: life!  So, if today, someone were to ask me to pick a museum, I may just pick the Buffalo Museum of Science, Albright Knox Art Gallery, or even Burchfield Penney ArtCenter.    All three types, history, science, and the arts, engages you to think critically. Critical thinking enables you to elucidate, comprehend, analyze, and critique your own deepest discriminations, biases, and misconceptions. Critical thinking requires thought to be investigated and evaluated for its clearness, precision, significance, strength, and coherence.  All of these forms of stimuli are present in the three forms of museums.
Today, I visited the Burchfield-Penney Art Center for the very first time. Immediately I came across a lithograph of Buffalo’s early street map.  Next, I was introduced to a departed local artist, Charles Burchfield.  I was ecstatic to view local history in varying lenses: the artistic lens and historic lens.  I carefully examined his pieces of works and got lost in them, especially his piece, mid-June.  When I viewed it, I felt instant tranquility.  I got the feeling of peace and liberation.  It was heavenly, remote, lively, and healthy.  I soon learned that the piece was initially smaller and as Burchfield grew as an artist, he, 27 years later, added on to it to finalize and perfect it.  As a teacher, I respect this because that is what I expect my student writing community to do, add details!  I was told by my tour guide that he lived a lonely life.  But, I wonder, was he really lonely or did others perceive that of him.  Upon further investigation into his biography and journals, I wonder that if he was lonely, maybe it was because he thought in ways that were not congruent to others.
Burchfield, born in April of 1893, was an Aries.  He incorporated his zodiac sign along with his initials as his signature to his works of art.  He believed that, as an Aries, he was confident, energetic, enthusiastic, and pioneering.  He initiated his art career in his home state of Ohio.  He relocated to Buffalo, NY at the dawn of the Roaring 20’s and the Prohibition era.  He married, had 5 children, and was employed as a designer at Buffalo’s renowned H.M. Birge wallpaper company.  His life as a wallpaper designer was not fulfilling his voids and desires in life and he decided to take a gamble and sell his work as his primary source of income.  Even though this was the era of the Great Depression, his work sold consistently.  “Fascinated by Buffalo’s streets, harbor, railroad yards, and surrounding countryside, he adopted a more realistic artistic style. Burchfield’s foray into realism lasted for several years.” Eventually, Burchfield moved out of the city and into my hometown of West Seneca.  Burchfield continued to produce works of art and even revisited old works.  Much of his work is on display at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center associated with Buffalo State College.
Learning about and analyzing different artists and their work at Burchfield, today, was just as captivating and entrancing as going to a history museum, due to the fact that the arts and history are connected in critical ways.  Like a historian, an artist studies media of the time, as well as writings. Our country’s Constitution supports freedom of expression and that is precisely what people have been doing since the inception of our country through ways such as paintings and other visual arts.  Art teachers, in schools, should provide students opportunities to interpret American history and culture as the “arts promote alternate perspectives on historical events.  By stimulating emotional connections to the past, art works motivate young people to relate past issues to those in their lives and potentially make connections to events in the present” (Zwirn & Lebresco, 2010, 29).  Artists have been inspired by issues of power and government and have created stimulating works due to it.   The visual world could be portrayed from legacies of slavery, the holocaust, Japanese internment, and even more current history with the Obama presidential nomination.  All have provoked artists to paint, draw political cartoons, or capture the moment through photograph.  Students in a classroom should view this visual history and formulate questions and observations from it (Ring, 2000).
Again, in the classrooms, art and history teachers must select works of art for study that are appropriate with respect to complexity, historical context, subject matter, and relevance, as well as the design of associated learning activities, when developing lesson plans of instruction (Ring, 2000).  Discipline Based Art Education now calls for the teaching of art criticism and aesthetics, in addition to art production and art history (Stout, 1995). The national standards for the visual arts include an understanding of art in “relation to history” and students “reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merit of their work and the work of others” (VanTassel-Baska, 1998, p. 466). Comprehension of art expression is an inquiry based approach that allows students to predict, form opinions, collaborate with peers to exchange personal views, initiate civil debate and discussion, and reflection (Ring, 2000).  Learning how to read a painting, according to Ring, is as fundamental as learning to read a book.  It is even more fundamental than reading a text and spitting back information that will be forgotten shortly after, whereas if one learns to think critically, the skill will follow them through life (Clark & Day & Greer, 1987).  Weather you are a teacher, a student, or anyone looking to choose a museum to attend, I suggest attending all.  All can be used as a stimulus to deeper thought into the past, present, and future of local, National, and world history.

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