Posts Tagged 'Einstein’s Dreams'

Einstein's Dreams of the DMA

If you’re a follower of the DMA Educator Blog, then you’ve read about our Staff Reading Group.  Last Friday, our reading group combined a work of fiction with works from the collection in an engaging and provocative conversation.

Melissa selected five excerpts from Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman.*  The novel imagines what Einstein may have been dreaming about during the time that he was developing the theory of relativity.  Our instructions from Melissa were simple: read the  excerpts, each of which offers a definition of time, and select one work of art from the collection to illustrate that definition.  This idea was first introduced by Amy in a blog post over the summer.

Six staff members participated in the conversation, and we were shocked when we learned that we had each responded to the same excerpt: 14 April 1905.  In this chapter, time is defined in the following way: “Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself.  The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly” (Lightman, 6).

Both Hannah and Melissa selected Shiva Nataraja as the art equivalent of time as a circle.  Shiva is the Hindu deity of creation, destruction, and rebirth, and in this sculpture he dances out the rhythm of the universe.

Shiva Nataraja, India, 11th century, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, the Hamon Charitable Foundation, and an anonymous donor in honor of David T. Owsley, with additional funding from The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation and the Cecil and Ida Green Acquisition Fund

Our part-time intern, Mary Nangah, thought Jackson Pollock’s Cathedral best represented this concept of time.  It’s difficult to identify and starting and ending point for each line.  Time is also represented through the repetition of color and line on the canvas.

Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard J. Reis

Jessica selected Harry Koerner’s June Night, which shows an intimate view of an apartment complex.  Jessica felt that these vignettes could happen any time, anywhere.  The images of the bride and groom, as well as the baby, also reminded her of the cycle of life.  The final line of this excerpt reads “For in each town, late at night, the vacant streets and balconies fill up with their moans” (Lightman, 9).  Jessica could imagine hearing sorrowful moans on the fire escape of this painting.

Henry Koerner, June Night, 1948-1949, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Joshua L. Logan

My selection was Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe by Jacques-Louis David.  I was especially struck by the last paragraph of the reading, which was about people with unhappy lives who realize that they cannot change their actions and their mistakes will be repeated over and over again.  Here, Niobe pleads with Apollo and Diana to spare the last of her fourteen children from death.  She is being punished for her pride after boasting that her children were more beautiful and strong than Apollo and Diana.  Her final punishment comes when she is turned into a sculpture, forced to mourn for eternity.

Jacques-Louis David, Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe, 1772, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund in honor of Dr. Dorothy Kosinski

If you were going to select one work of art from the DMA’s collection to represent time as a circle, what work would you choose?  I look forward to reading your responses in the comments!

Shannon Karol
Manager of Docent Programs and Gallery Teaching

*Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams, New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Taking Time in Silence and Time

The DMA special exhibition Silence and Time has been a great springboard for conversation on tours with students and in programs with teachers this summer.  Since we have just a month left to enjoy the installation, I thought it would be fun to share some new experiences and conversations it inspired, and some familiar activities we revisited.  Look for a blog post in mid-August about a half-day teacher workshop in Silence and Time that incorporated some of the experiences below.

Start with silence
Prime yourself for time in the galleries by sitting in silence for a few minutes.

Silence and Time was inspired by a specific few minutes of silence: American artist John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33.”  As the introductory wall text states, “Cage’s controversial work comprises three movements…arranged for any instrument or combination of instruments. All of the movements are performed without a single note being played. The content of this composition is meant to be perceived as the sound of the environment that the listener hears while it is performed, rather than as four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence.”

What did you notice during your 4’33” of silence?

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Just one minute
Take just one minute to look at an artwork.  When your time is up, turn so your back faces the artwork, and write down as many details about it as you can.  If you’re with a friend, have him or her quiz you about the artwork with your back turned.  How much were you able to notice and remember in just one minute?

Look longer
Spend fifteen minutes with just one artwork in the exhibition.  Get close, move far away, and use ideas below to help you look closely.

  • Create a log of what you see.
  • Make a sketch of the work of art.
  • Write down questions you have about the work of art.
  • Write down what you like about the work of art.
  • Write down what confuses you about the work of art.
  • Write down how the work of art makes you feel.

Tracking time
Consider all the ways time can be measured both mechanically (clocks, calendars) and naturally (changing of seasons, hair growth, erosion).  Find as many examples of ways we mark time as you can in works of art in the exhibition.

Find the time
Are there artworks that suggest suspension of time?  Time moving slowly or rapidly?  That time is cyclical or linear?  Challenge a friend to identify different representations of time manifested in artworks in the exhibition.  If you enjoy thinking about possible shapes time could take, pick up Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, a collection of short stories that describe parallel universes where time behaves differently–sometimes in circles, sometimes backwards, etc.

Make your own artwork
Use make-shift art materials from your purse or pockets to create an artwork that will change with time.  As you’re looking for materials in your purse or pockets, consider which objects show more or less wear and tear and which objects age more or less quickly.  Then, explore the galleries looking specifically at materials the artists used.

Silence and Time is on view until August 28.

Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Go van Gogh Outreach


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