Photo Essay: Public art on the Williams campus

It seems plausible that we as goal-oriented, driven Williams students often fail to notice our surroundings as we make haste from Point A to Point B.

Quiz yourself: how often are the mountains that enfold you deeply, spiritually appreciated? And, following that – if we take art to be to humankind what nature is to God – to what degree is the collection of public art that sweeps the grounds of our institution critiqued, enjoyed or ignored completely on a daily or weekly basis?

We expect our local museums to safeguard the christened masterpieces. The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is a fantastic on-campus resource for art history majors and casual art-lovers alike and the Clark Art Institute is world-renowned for its priceless collections of impressionist paintings and 19th century European sculptures. What is less intuitive is that art need not be confined within these museums, sheltered in the foyer or hung on walls in protected spaces. The College possesses a vast wealth of public art to share with the community at large, lining the pathways of our daily routines.

Many, perhaps, do not know or value the company of artists we keep.

Louise Bourgeois, whose laser-beaming eyes grace the forged hills between Goodrich and East College, is one of the more prominent 20th century sculptors, and her installation in front of WCMA is impossible to disregard, at least during first excursions to and from the Berkshire Quad.

Over time, students may become habituated to their existence and find that they walk between their hulking presence not only without contemplation but without awareness of their being there at all. Indeed, the reality of their taking up space on that lawn excludes the possibility of parking parents’ cars as close as possible to East and Fay at the end-of-the-semester rush to pack up everything and go home, and at times like these, public art may even be resented.

Becoming blind to public art – to be so consumed by personal thoughts that one’s surroundings are taken for granted – is not necessarily a bad thing. Buddhist philosophers would argue for a more mindful daily meditation, but a minute-by-minute fascination with every item in our visual field is simply not in human nature, nor should it be.

The fact remains, however, that we are surrounded by a rich and varied artistic culture, one that merits study and reflection from time to time.

The College has provided us with the objects of artistic appreciation; the art relies on the enthusiasts to lend meaning to its existence.

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