Going back to School- the Eskenazi Museum in Bloomington, IN

 John Robert Cozens, Sepulchral Remains in the Campagna near 
Rome,  watercolor, ca. 1782-83, Eskenazi Museum of Art.
Bloomington, IN

About a thousand years ago (actually 1970) I moved to Bloomington, IN to enter Indiana University's MFA Program in Painting. As I had previously been one of only a few art students in the small art department at Oberlin College I was hungry to finally be surrounded by other committed artists. The experience at Indiana worked out well- better than I'd expected. 

More than for most of the other painting grad students, the campus art museum (now the Eskenazi Museum of Art) really spoke to me. I ended up taking a history of landscape painting course from one of the art history faculty, Louis Hawes. He had an almost fanatical enthusiasm for two early British watercolor painters, Cozens and Girtin that intrigued and delighted me. 

Thomas Girtin, Landscape with House, watercolor, ca. 1798-1800
Eskenazi Museum of Art, Bloomington, IN

Hawes organized a powerful exhibition of 19th century American paintings for the Museum that leaned heavily towards landscape. That show opened my eyes to how artists could express so much of their inner feeling though landscape imagery. 

Charles Burchfield, Pine Spring Hollow, watercolor, 1917
Eskenazi Museum of Art, Bloomington, IN

We tend to think of 20th century art as a time of artists radically breaking with convention and finding new roads to expression. While that's all true, there's another side to the story. Just as vital is how art is a long chain of conversations from one generation to the next about how they see and feel the world to be. 

For me as a landscape painter seeing the work of artists like Charles Burchfield or even the real old timers like Cozens and Girtin nurtures and energizes me. Art museums keep their visions alive for us. We are free to choose what to borrow from these past masters and what no longer fits the needs of how we see in the present day. 


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