Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 2

We continue to be non-stop busy, but that's probably for the best because there's a lot to do in Dublin, as well as attempt to have some semblance of classes. We've been able to meet with a lot of guest speakers for historical context and information from their areas of specialty. Tuesday, we met Claire Keegan, a published short story author, who was a fascinating individual. As a class we had read "Foster" and "Walk the Blue Fields", and I had read her other stories from the collections Antartica and Walk the Blue Fields. Many of her short stories were slightly disturbing. Overall, I think it was refreshing to meet with an author who approaches her art from a more personal direction than an academic might.
Both the National Library and the National Museum have free admission. We toured the Yeats Exhibition and had a quick overview of the National Museum archaeology exhibits. The collection of gold is especially impressive, and the bog bodies are another highlight, although that display was creepy. I'm not sure why, but it's very different from seeing a skeleton; it's the whole body, flesh, organs, bones, and all, of someone who died violently.
We've been able to take our art practice outside with us this week, which was a nice change. This week we're working on cross-hatching and quick gesture drawings. I think I need to work on being more patient while working on cross-hatching; my drawings often look very messy and scribbled, rather than neat and realistic, and I think if I could make myself slow down more that would help.
Friday was an all day field trip to several sites in County Meath: the Loughcrew Passage Tomb, the Hill of Tara, and Trim Castle. I enjoyed getting to see a little bit of the history that was discussed in my Norse and Celtic Mythology class last fall, and it was particularly interesting to see the castle. 
Castles are a setting that tends to be present in the imagination from an early age, from fairy tales, movies, fantasy novels, and so on. I'm not sure how much research authors actually do into what castles are truly like, and it's not like fantasy authors are writing historical fiction--they're free to create their setting however they like. Furthermore, there are a lot of different types of castles from various historical periods. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how small this particular castle was. Even the Great Hall didn't seem all that imposing. The most interesting fact I learned is that Trim Castle (and apparently some other castles as well) was plastered and painted. The stone walls we saw would've been a bright white, with a roof of red tiles, although apparently bright colors were often used for other castles--purple and pink, for example. This raised the interior temperature by about 15 degrees and made the building highly visible. With glass windows and thick tapestries as well, the castle would've been a comfortable temperature to live in, although the ruins we toured were drafty and unwelcoming.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 1

I've been in Ireland for over a week now, and it's high time I made a new blog post. We've made it to Dublin now. (The Internet access in Louisburgh was somewhat lacking.)
I made it to Ireland before most of the study abroad group, so I was fully recovered from jet lag and adjusted to the time change when I met up with everyone. I did explore Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but it was a good way to spend a day, and the castle, in particular, was pretty neat. The thing that most surprised me was the steep spiral staircases. They certainly were good value for vertical territory covered in a minimum of horizontal area, but they were slightly claustrophobic when there were large groups of people present, and I could feel my fear of heights making me a bit nervous when I turned to go down.
Our first day after our arrival in Louisburgh was a long Sunday of touring various locations in and around County Mayo with a Carleton emeritus English professor from the area. Westport House was our first stop. Apparently, the family that used to own the place were descended from Grace O'Malley or Granuaile. She was a somewhat notorious pirate in the area here around Clew Bay. The story that I remember about her from the tour is that when she was eight, she was not allowed to go out to sea with her father because it was considered unlucky to have a woman onboard the ship. Consequently, she cut all her hair off and was onboard the ship for two moths before her father realized who she was. At that point, it was far too late to turn around, so she received training onboard.
We also visited Aghabower. There's an old round tower, which would have been a protection from Viking raids, and a graveyard and old church ruins as well as a sacred well with a sheela na gig.
So far, Ireland is mostly extremely windy and rather rainy, with occasional spots of sunshine. On all the bus rides, the scenery has been absolutely gorgeous. There are rolling green hills, and Clew Bay with blue-green water and numerous islands. We have passed by Croagh Patrick several times; its peak is often shrouded in clouds.
On our second day of touring various locations, we visited the Michael Davitt Museum. I had never heard of Michael Davitt before, but he seemed like someone of which I ought to have heard. Apparently, Gandhi drew inspiration from some of Davitt's rhetoric and his non-violent methods.
In the afternoon we visited Hennigan's Heritage Centre. Tom Hennigan was extremely knowledgeable about a variety of crafts and skills that were essential to the pre-modern Irish lifestyle. I found his incorporation of references to poetry into his presentation particularly engaging, as when he displayed creel baskets and recited a Seamus Heaney poem about making them.
Our first art class was Tuesday; we began with blind contour drawings. I think I'm really going to enjoy this art class. I don't feel my work is exceptionally good or bad, but I am certain I will improve over the course of the next ten weeks. I really enjoy art; it feels like something I can do. I feel like I have a healthy attitude towards my artwork; if only I could cultivate a similar attitude towards other parts of my life, I think I would be a much happier person.

What makes something art? Why does an object become more aesthetically pleasing when we call it art? Maybe it's a type of peer pressure that we all have decreed that certain things are art, and thus worthy of appreciation, or perhaps the knowledge that something is considered art causes the viewer to look at it in a more thoughtful way.
In our most recent art class, we drew shoes. I quite like my shoes, and I don't think they're ugly, but I hadn't appreciated a shoe as an object in a certain way until I had to draw it. Looking at everyone else's drawings, what they had produced was something aesthetically pleasing and attractive, something people would enjoy looking at, even if we are not all perfect artists. Meanwhile, people wear shoes all the time and don't appreciate them in that sense. Even now, I'm not going to look at someone's shoe and really consider it to be art (at least not in most cases). What changed between the object itself and the representation of the object? To make this more complicated, what about forms of art such as sculpture, in which the object itself is the product?
This is primarily an observational and field drawing class, so we're mostly focusing on translating three-dimensional objects into a two-dimensional medium convincingly. We are keeping a field notebook for 55% of our final grade. We are supposed to include some small bits of journaling within the book as well as all of our assignments, so by the end of the course, I hope to have something pretty interesting to look back on from this summer.
Wednesday was our day for Croagh Patrick. I am somewhat disappointed in myself that I did not do the entire hike. I hiked the first third, which according to the map, appears to be a bit less than two kilometers, although an extremely steep, treacherous, and windy two kilometers. Nonetheless, it was my choice to turn around, and I didn't want to hold up the entire group ahead of me. Looking at the map, we didn't have too much more to go, just a flat section and a last steep bit to the summit. I doubt I'll have a chance to hike a mountain in Ireland again, so I do kind of regret it, but it was probably the better decision at the time. Still, at least I wasn't one of the people who chose not to hike it at all. That would've really felt like a poor choice for me to not take advantage of this opportunity because hiking is something I do enjoy. I did see some fantastic views as more and more of the bay becomes visible.

Thursday we visited the Jackie Clarke Collection in Ballina. There were some interesting pieces there, although the curator was a bit long-winded. They seem to be a relatively new installation, in the last five years or so. We were hoping for more small objects to practice drawing, but the collection is mainly documents of various types. They do have a copy of the 1916 Proclamation, I believe the only one that is not located in Dublin, which was cool, and will probably have a little more meaning for me after we've had a chance to discuss Irish history in a bit more detail in classes.
Grades came out from last term on Thursday. It's strange to me to be heading into a new term already when the old one is hardly finished. I haven't been home since Christmas, so I am really looking forward to those few weeks in August and September before Fall Term classes begin.
So far, my favorite reading has been Angela's Ashes, by Frank McCourt. The Guards by Ken Bruen and The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle were also enjoyable reads. Angela's Ashes was surprisingly humorous at times for a book about a childhood spent in abject poverty. It was particularly interesting to see the ways Frank McCourt was encouraged to read and to further his education, the importance of religion in his life, and the relationship between Ireland and America for many of the characters in the book.
My other two classes are Irish Literature and Performing Ireland. They are mostly functioning together as one class on this program, which seems more sensible for our situation, although Carleton requires that they be two separate six-credit courses with two different grades. It's a lot looser than what I am accustomed to, with a lot more options for us to choose how and when we will do a sufficient number of assignments of various types, and which books, from on or off our syllabus, we will use to complete those assignments. I know our professor doesn't want to stress us out so much that we can't take full advantage of our location, but he also has high expectations for our writing. It's going to be interesting seeing how that goes.