How long will you look at this painting?

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Three seconds? Fifteen? In the mid-19th century, tens of thousands of people entered darkened galleries to view this work, and others like it, by Frederic Church—sometimes spending up to an hour examining one painting using opera glasses to immerse themselves in the foreign landscape.

“The Andes of Ecuador,” painted in 1855, is the focus of the freshmen academic project this year. The painting hangs in Reynolda House, and new students will be touring the museum and viewing the work on Sunday, August 22 from 3:30 through 6 p.m.

This summer, using videos and readings on the academic project website, students learned about…

  • 19th-century theology, psychology and the historic debates about evolution
  • Andean ecology and climate change
  • the economics of art patronage
  • the literary world of the period with works by Thoreau and Emerson
  • how to look at, think about and discuss visual images

…and how to bring all these seemingly diverse ideas to bear on one 4 x 6 foot landscape painting.

“How and what we see and why we see things the way we do is an historic phenomenon,” says Reynolda House Postdoctoral Fellow Jennifer Raab. While incoming students are getting their first taste of a liberal arts approach to education, they may be learning how to focus on one image from a variety of perspectives rather than a variety of images from one perspective—and taking more than a few seconds to enjoy the experience.

Media is invited to cover move-in and orientation events, which begin Thursday, August 19th.

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