Close-Looking With the CMA’s Student Guide Program: Get to Know Jeanna Lopez
By: Key Jo Lee, Assistant Director of Academic Affairs, CMA Student Guide Jeanna Lopez & CMA Student Guide Hannah Boylan
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Student Guide Program is a paid experiential training internship that enables college students to personally engage museumgoers using close-looking techniques. Through this tour-based program, the students aim to demonstrate how works of art from every period and from around the world are relevant to how we see, think, and live. Students in the program hail from a variety of majors, including art history, mathematics, anthropology, and engineering. Part of the museum’s expressed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, this program trains college students from various racial and economic backgrounds to ensure that the CMA’s frontline educators better reflect the diversity of Greater Cleveland. The program is generously supported by the Walton Family Foundation and the Ford Foundation through the Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative (DAMLI).
Close-looking tours led by CMA student guides offer a completely new way of connecting with the collection in fun, active, and informal ways. Participants are encouraged through discussion, writing, and drawing activities to consider what they see and why they see it as such. These tours also emphasize collective interpretations of objects over lecture-based tour styles. In other words, they are less about specific histories of artworks and more about building and expanding one’s skills of observation. Student-guided close-looking tours — free and open to the public — occur every second, third, and fourth Friday of the academic year at 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.
In this recurring series, we are showcasing a CMA student guide in The Thinker, including an interview conducted by one of their peers as well as a short essay focusing on an object of their choosing from the CMA’s permanent collection that exemplifies the ways slow and close looking have impacted their experiences as both a guide and viewer.
This first installment features an interview with Jeanna Lopez ( Case Western Reserve University class of 2021) by Hannah Boylan (Case Western Reserve University class of 2020), both CMA senior student guides.* This post also highlights Jeanna’s essay on Watching a Waterfall, 1790 by Tani Bunchō.
*Senior student guides have served as guides for at least one academic year and have been trained as peer facilitators for the larger group.
How has slow/close looking changed your experience of art?
After reading texts by Shari Tishman, I reflected on how close looking means slowing down when you are interacting not only with art but with anything that you encounter. This can take the form of activities as simple as going on a walk or sitting at home trying to figure out what you are doing that day — just slowing down before acting or making initial movements. Before joining the program, I definitely was guilty of being in front of a painting or an art object for 10 seconds and then moving on. I think everyone has done that at some point in their life. Being able to utilize slow looking while in the galleries, I am now more intrigued by art. I have the tools to be able to interact with objects in a way that I wasn’t able to before.
How do you bring your background and experience to your work as a student guide? How does it feel to work with such a diverse group of students?
When I was young, I was enthralled by art. In first grade, I took young Picasso classes instead of enrolling in Brownies, Girl Scouts, or anything like that. Art has always been important to me and something I get excited about. I think that same excitement arises when I lead slow-looking sessions. Additionally, because I am an art history major, I bring some of my knowledge about time periods or artworks to these tours.
Working with a diverse group of students is awesome because the basis of the program is that any student in the Cleveland area can join. We have people from so many ethnic backgrounds or academic interests or focuses, so everyone is bringing something different to the table. For example, I have a student that is a computer science major, and the way that he looks at art intrigues me. I think that I am able to view things from different perspectives as a result of being around such a diverse group of people.
What have been the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of the program?
The most challenging part is the same thing it has been since I joined the program: public speaking. Although I know at the end of my slow-looking sessions I did well, it is something I am constantly anxious about. My challenge is getting comfortable in front of large groups of people. The program has definitely helped me with this because I am speaking in public a lot more often.
Guest response is the most rewarding part. When I led sessions at the MIX: Anatomy event in October, people came up afterward and said that they didn’t know that the museum hosted these kinds of activities. They wanted information on future student-guided close-looking tours and were intrigued by the program. It’s rewarding knowing that there are a handful of people who are now able to interact with an object — it doesn’t necessarily have to be a work of art — in a different way. I love being able to take my tools and put them in their tool boxes.
How do you think you contribute to the CMA’s mission?
The whole point of the Student Guide Program is to enhance public engagement. This is how we contribute to the CMA’s mission. The activities we do with people are ones that essentially anyone can do. No matter what your background is, you’re able to hop in and interact with art. A lot of people don’t necessarily know that they can do this; people are used to having docent-led tours or an art historian’s view on an object instead of a more collaborative, rounded, and less formalized experience with art. I think that this program allows us to interact with everybody.
How has your involvement and participation in this program fit into your broader goals for developing your skill set?
On a personal level, public speaking has always been a big fear of mine. This program has helped me get out of my comfort zone. On a professional level, I have been able to acquire a good skill set to look at my academic interests differently. For example, a lot of people who study art history don’t do drawing activities in front of works of art, so it has helped me develop a new, unique skill within my art historical background.
Why is slow looking an important (or, dare I say, enjoyable) skill today?
Slow looking gives us the ability to slow down with anything we interact with. I even noticed this recently when I was taking my midterms. I used to get a lot of test anxiety, but having learned to slow down in general, I have been able to slow down in my academic and personal pursuits as well. Taking a step back and thinking about things before I jump in has been something I gained from the program and use outside the museum every day.
Sit Back, Slow-Look, and Enjoy the View
By: CMA Student Guide Jeanna Lopez
Outside of a museum setting, I love to go hiking, camping, and immerse myself in nature, among other things. After going to a few meditation sessions last year hosted by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), I tried to find a way to combine a meditative experience, my experiences as a Senior Student Guide at the CMA, and my experiences in nature to create a close/slow Looking experience with one of my (many) favorite art works on view in the galleries. Below, I am going to share the basic information about the work, my close/slow looking experiences with it, what close/slow looking is, and provide a step-by-step activity that you can follow with the same work I chose.
Before spending an extended period of time (usually 20+ minutes) with any work in the CMA galleries, I always grab a gallery stool to avoid fatigue, and bring a pencil and notebook with me to record my thoughts. Walking into the Asian art galleries always puts me in a calm and meditative state as the galleries are usually quiet and softly lit. I then set my gallery stool about four feet away from work, so I am able to get a full view. I take a few deep breaths to put me in a relaxed state, then I give myself a few minutes to look at the work in front of me.
Looking at Watching a Waterfall, it is vertically rectangular; it is a part of a hanging scroll that is a pale, light blue, and around its borders is a gold decorative material that displays a vine or botanical motif. The focus of the image is the landscape. Initially my eye catches two figures standing on a landform that seems to be a little ledge in the center of the composition, which is positioned slightly above and adjacent to a waterfall. Perhaps the figures have come to look at said waterfall. Surrounding them are layers of cliffs and mountainesque landforms. The figure closest to the edge of the cliff is wearing a flowing white robe with a blue belt and hat. The other figure does not seem to be dressed as nicely, shown with a shorter brown robe, light brown pants, and is holding, what I assume to be, paper scrolls with a brush. The larger of the figures seems to be a scholar/courtly figure while his companion seems to be an assistant/attendant. This is based on my observation of their dress and objects they are holding.
The use of ink allows for the impressive, yet subtle tonality of the composition. We can see this as the landforms fade in color . The work is filled with colors that one would normally find in nature. There are deep to light greens shown at the edges of cliffs, they fade into light brown to depict dirt underneath. The tree branches beside the cliffs and throughout the landscape are enhanced by daubs of light pink, maybe indicating it is a sakura (cherry blossom) tree. This makes me think of Japanese classical poetry that I’ve read in my classes, they would use kigo (season words) to indicate what time of year they were writing about in poetry. A lot of these words dealt with natural elements, such as flowers and trees that would bloom in those specific seasons. Sakura trees bloom in the spring, which tells me that this image is representative of springtime in Japan.
Just as the figures are observing their own natural surroundings, I recall my own experiences in a natural setting, walking along a path or sitting on a sturdy rock and observing nature. I chose this work because I was able to connect it to so many aspects of my life. The visuals itself also put me in a dream-like landscape setting which is serene, relaxing, and makes me want to be a part of it.
Close/Slow looking, to me, is sitting down, or standing up, taking a breath, and having a heart-to-heart with whatever I am looking at. When I am in a museum setting, it is taking the time to really observe what is in front of me in as many details as I can, and making connections with it. These connections can be through past experiences, through writing, meditating, taking a picture, or even playing a song that reminds you of it. Whatever you choose to do, close/slow looking is essentially taking the extra step(s) in order to connect more.
By close/slow looking with this object, you will be able to identify its layers, both literal and figurative, more clearly, noticing the visual elements presented. Also, being able to push past the initial thought of “oh, it’s just a landscape.” By close/slow looking, you may understand the subject matter more, and make your own personal connection to it in some way that is unique to your own experiences.
Before you go: I recommend bringing a little notebook and pencil into the galleries. I personally love to keep a little diary of any object I slow/close look with, so I can reflect on it when I am not in front of the artwork anymore. If you don’t want to carry around a bunch of stuff, then just bring these instructions. I will provide a link to a song that I paired with this work, so if you want to listen to it while in front of it, I would also bring headphones.
Something to consider: Give yourself at least 10 minutes to complete this activity.
The Step by Step:
- Grab a gallery stool.
- Head upstairs to gallery 235A, if you don’t know where this is, ask a guard, grab a map at the information desk in the atrium, or download the ARTLENS app which provides a virtual map and log of all the items on view in the collection.
- Find the artwork I listed at the very beginning and situate yourself in front of it.
- Take at least 5 deep breaths with your eyes closed or at half gaze.
- Take at least a minute to observe what you can about the artwork (colors, shapes, setting, figures, lines, anything really).
- Think about or write down your observations.
- Find an element in the work, maybe a color, natural setting, or a figure.
- Think about this element, or write it down.
- Now think about, or write down how this element can relate to you. This could be through a past experience or maybe how the element is making you feel in that moment.
- Find another element, and complete steps 8 and 9 again.
- Find as many other elements as you wish and continue to repeat steps 8 and 9. Sometimes only doing it twice is enough for people, which is great because either way, you are pushing past the normal amount of time some spend in front of an artwork.
- After you feel you’ve interacted with the work as much as you can, repeat step 4.
- Finally, collect yourself, your belongings, and the gallery stool to either continue your journey in the galleries.
- Here is a song I chose that reminded me of this work. Other than that, enjoy your time in the galleries!