Four days a week, I report to my student job at the Registrar’s Office in the Center for British Art, and from my desk I can see into one of the galleries, where everything — from the paintings, to the plaques on the walls, to the guards — seems to be in order. Groups of local public schoolchildren come on field trips almost every day for educational programs, and a group called the Senior Men’s Club seems to show up once a week as well. Only one thing is missing: Yale students perusing the collection.
Do you go to the University Art Gallery (UAG) or the Center for British Art (CBA) often? Have you ever been at all? Have you ever been to the Peabody? One of the reasons I came to Yale was because I thought the CBA was so impressive, yet I had never been to the fourth floor of it until I went with a class the fall of sophomore year. The other day, walking down Chapel Street, I saw a girl gesture vaguely toward the CBA and mutter blankly to her walking companion, “I’ve never been there before.”
So, what’s wrong with us? Don’t we care about art? Are we too busy for the CBA’s world-famous collection? We don’t seem to be too busy for Yalestation Degrees (I certainly make time for it), not too busy for two-hour dinners in the dining halls. We’re not too busy to procrastinate. Regardless of your workload and other commitments, paying the artists in our galleries a visit is your duty; you ought to make time for it.
Perhaps I hold the opinion that we should frequent our campus art galleries only because I’m a terrible snob, but even snobbery has its place. After all, we all go to Yale and think we’re really smart and ambitious and wonderful. We think we’re getting the best education money can buy. We think we’re going to change the world, or buy it, or run it. So go ahead, blame the following opinions on my superior attitude, but don’t dismiss them immediately.
For one thing, though it may sound reductive, seeing first-hand all our school has to offer is the only way to get our money’s worth. It’s tempting to refer to our classes here as being “worth” $2,000 each, or each lecture costing around $100. But in fact, the four years we spend here should be as valuable outside the classroom as they are in it. The education you’re paying for includes more than classes, and Yale makes every attempt to foster extracurricular and social involvement by housing all underclassmen on campus with full meal plans, by sponsoring Spring Fling and other events, by funding undergraduate organizations. And, strictly monetarily, Yale is heavily invested in its museums — at the moment, according to the sign posted on York Street, the UAG is undergoing extensive renovations as part of Yale’s Capital Project.
When all is said and done, though, the money we spend on Yale museums isn’t the primary reason that we should visit them; we have an academic and artistic obligation to go. Regardless of cause or effect, we ought to populate our campus museums’ empty galleries, agonize over the possible interpretations of “Slip it to Me” (go to the Richard Hamilton exhibit at the CBA and you’ll know where that comes from), relive our childhoods in the Peabody’s dinosaur hall. These places are here for us to learn from.
Moral obligations aside, the museums at Yale are precious experiences in and of themselves. In fact, the CBA and UAG are worthwhile outings just for the fancy buildings, which were both designed by Louis Kahn, the architect on whose life the recent documentary film “My Architect” is based. Both museums have fantastic collections that are always being enhanced. The Peabody is loads of fun with its dinosaurs and fossils and traveling exhibitions.
The truth is that much of our education is lost if we don’t often take advantage of Yale’s resources, particularly its museums. It’s not just that they’re here and that the University (and therefore you) spends a lot of money on them, but ultimately they’re really very good museums. Making the point to go is enormously worthwhile and enriching.
Helen Vera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.