Beyond Main Hall: Exploring the Region’s Cultural Resources

Taft is situated midway between Boston and New York, and Taft students benefit from all that both cities have to offer.

A great advantage of Taft's location is the plethora of cultural resources available to students for study, research, enrichment, and enjoyment. Taft is situated midway between Boston and New York, and Taft students benefit from all that both cities have to offer: in recent months they have performed at concert venues in Boston and New York; taken in performances by the Boston Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Hong Kong Ballet at New York City Center; and conducted research at the New York Botanical Garden. They have visited galleries, historic sites, and museums. Most recently, students in Taft's Honors Humanities and Honors History of Western Art classes visited New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to over 5,000 years of art from around the world.

"Humanities students spent time at the Met reflecting on a handful of works inspired by our first-semester texts, including Plato's Phaedo and the Book of Esther," explains Classics Teacher Justin Hudak. "They also formally analyzed Renaissance paintings, and engaged in sustained scholarly contemplation of a single work that appealed to them and spoke in some way to our course's themes."

For Ronald Ceesay '23, that single work was Jacques-Louis David's 1787 Neoclassical painting, The Death of Socrates.

"We studied the intricacies and symbolism of the painting in class," notes Ronald. "It was difficult to fully appreciate and understand it simply seeing it on video. But seeing it in person made it all click. Whether it was the colors, the layering, or the depth, it was majestic. I studied it for a very long time."

As a filmmaker, Ronald explored not just David's painting, but all of the works at the Met through his own unique lens.

"Every shot in a film is a meticulously crafted photo that helps tell the larger story," Ronald says. "So for me, I looked at the paintings and sculptures at the Met as shots from scenes that are part of a greater story that was carefully and thoroughly crafted by the artist."

Like Hudak's students, Alex Werrell's Honors History of Western Art scholars also worked to connect classroom study and personal perspective with specific works at the Met. His class focused in part on depictions of Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. 

"Students studied the progressive and transgressive ways in which Hatshepsut appears in sculpture, shattering traditional gender norms in pharaonic Egypt," explains Werrell.

Roma Mykhailevych is a senior in Werrell's class. It is there, she says, that she came to fully understand what it means to look beyond the visual aesthetic of art.

"In our class, we learn about different functions of art: how it reflects the values and ideals of the past and how it serves as a tool for shaping the present. Art can be used as a weapon to divide humanity and justify terrible crimes; art can be used as a common ground where everyone can relate to each other's experiences."

And like Ronald, Roma brought not just a trained eye to the art, but a deeply personal perspective.

"To me, being in a museum means looking for my name inscribed in the creations made by people who never knew me. Appreciating art in the Met, I could go through the parts of my mind I knew very well and the parts I was not conscious of. Art allows me to have a very private moment that encompasses the privacy of seeing myself as an individual with a unique identity and the privacy of being on my own with everyone else in the world."

Tafties by the Temple of Dendur

Tafties and the Temple of Dendur

Julian Prentice, Emma Beckford, and VanGogh

Hatshepsut and Sky Comfort

A JMW Turner behind Spencer Louie

Mr. Hudak and a balustrade from the Vlez Blanco, a Spanish palace from the early 1500s

From a temporary exhibiton the Black potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina, an amazing display of creolization in artistic production

Ingrid Spencer with an ionic column from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis

Julian, Spencer, Sky and a balustrade from the Vélez Blanco, a Spanish palace from the early 1500s

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