Oberlin Blogs

Art and the Art of the Flânerie

May 9, 2017

Emma Davey ’18

One of the biggest reasons I had for studying abroad in Paris was art. I'm not a studio art or art history major, but I have a definite affinity for art. I would argue that there's no better place in the world for art lovers than Paris. You have everything from the most famous and largest museum in the world (The Louvre, obvi) to smaller galleries that only take up one or two rooms. You have street art and statues and architecture. If you allow your mind to stretch a bit, as Paris is also the world's fashion capital, you have plenty of wearable art.

Art museums are one of my favorite things. If you glance above at my about me section, you'll notice them listed under my interests. Also, while you're there, I still have bangs, but now I'm a blonde, so please update your mental image of me. Whenever I travel, visiting an art museum is something I try to do. Why such a strong interest? Art museums feel very zen to me. I like that I can spend as much or little time on looking at something, really looking at it. I like them because I like beauty and aesthetics, even though that makes me sound like a character from The Secret History. I like them because I like to be challenged. I like looking at something abstract and finding shape and meaning to it, like looking at clouds thinking they look like a dog or a flower. I like to look at something and not understand it and try to figure out why I should care. I like it when I really do care and I see something that stays with me. But my favorite thing of all is that every single person in an art museum takes something different away from it. I love when I overhear conversations and comments.

"I don't get it."
"I like the use of color."
"I think (this artist) was inspired by (that artist)."

I've made it a point to not stay in my room if I can help it, and to go out and explore the city. I have been to many an art museum - nearly twenty in Paris alone if my calculations are to be believed, and some more than once. My personal favorite is the Centre Pompidou. The Pompidou is a huge wacky-looking building with beaucoup de escalators, and it houses the Musee National d'art Moderne. They have pieces by everyone from Matisse to Cindy Sherman, and they also are home to one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, Georges. My mom once told me that was where Carrie Bradshaw met Petrovsky's ex-wife on Sex and the City, but that turned out to be untrue. Still, it's just as stylish and has an amazing view, though it's v expensive! But it was a great place to spend my 21st birthday! For my birthday, I saw a Magritte retrospective on its last day, and another exhibit on Cy Twombly, whose work I've always enjoyed due to his connection with the Menil Collection in Houston. I will freely admit, looking at some of Cy Twombly's work made me a little nostalgic. My first memories of art are at the Menil, when my mom would take me and sometimes we would talk about the paintings, and the Cy Twombly paintings at the Menil are some that imprinted on my brain. I didn't understand them at the time, and I can't always claim that I do now, but I really appreciate that about both my parents - they made a point to try to expose me to culture.

I've been to every type of art museum here, from the photography of the Jeu de Paume to Monet's water lilies at the Orangerie. My personal favorite kind of art is more modern, but I do love impressionism. I took a class called 19th Century Art History, which couldn't have been in a better location. Getting to talk about Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People and Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe and actually SEEING them in person definitely allowed me to gain a better understanding of what I was studying. For the semester, Paris became my classroom. My workload was minimal and my goals weren't academic in nature. I had a lot of free time. It was a nice change of pace from the Oberlin workload, which brings me to my next point - the art of the flânerie.

A flâneur is not a term that has an English equivalent. It's like the word crêpe - it'll be translated into "pancake" but it's very different and should be left in its original. A flâneur is an aimless wanderer. Someone with no real agenda who is strolling around the neighborhood. That's what I became in Paris. I would make plans for myself and fail to follow through. Or I would finish with those plans quickly, and not want to go back home, so I'd stick around and explore. Or sometimes that was the plan - to not have a grand agenda and simply walk. As a flâneuse, I'd see the world without interacting with it much. I'd stumble across parks and monuments and bakeries and I'd see kids on scooters and elderly couples sitting in the park and small fluffy dogs. Weather permitting, I enjoyed getting to sit in the parks, sitting in the sun with a good book. My favorite areas in Paris for a good flânerie were probably the Latin Quarter and St. Germain neighborhoods, perhaps a little cliché for a college student going through some existentialist crises. I like walking so much not only because it's free, but because I find that it alone is worthwhile, allowing me to absorb the culture and feel of the city.

Myself as a flâneuse is a purely Parisian phenomenon. The Allen has a world-class collection and Houston is home to many a museum, so I can (somewhat) get my art fix in when I need to. But Houston is not a walkable city and Oberlin is too small for me to explore more than I already have. This is likely my last blog written from right here in Paris, written at a coffee shop in St. Germain. I will miss many, many things about the city - cheap wine, baguettes, crêpes, the architecture, the way Eiffel Tower lights up at night, the people I met here, the stylish nature of Parisians. But to have a whole city to get lost in? That might be what I miss the most.

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