The Santa Barbara Museum of Art

I found this essay amongst my many college essays that I was equally as proud of as my previous post. I hope my readers don’t mind me dwelling too much on the past, but as I get ready for school to start I am inclined to look upon my past essays as I decide which to keep and which ones to discard. This one however, was inspired by my art history class assignment while I attended Santa Barbara City College in 2017. I was to go to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and was asked to compare pieces I had learned about in class to the current exhibition at the museum. I have to say before this experience, I had been to a handful of museums when I went on my trip to Europe, and while those museums were full of fantastic pieces of art, something about this experience was entirely different in that I was able to reflect on these pieces all alone and not have to worry about whether I was spending too much time looking at one piece. I got to have my own little journey through this museum which was very emotional and profound. I miss going to museums as they hold such treasures that mean so much more than just a picture on a wall. I hope you enjoy my trip down memory lane.

The experience personally captured in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art was one in which elicited strong feelings, emotions, and a sense of well-being that had a lot of underlying meaning and tone of love attached to the works I observed. I noticed the shifts in tone expressed while traveling through the museum and the theme of the works changing while discovering each new piece, it was as if the perspective changes in each room. The two pieces that stood out specifically symbolized love as well as innovation as I believe this was an important theme the artists wanted to convey through each of the works as well as in connection to the surrounding pieces.

Upon entering the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, it was important to me to go into the building with no expectations at all. I choose to attend the museum alone as to not distract from my academic as well as artistic mindset. Walking up the grand steps of the building I felt a feeling of superiority. Elevated architecture and status as if a palace or grand hotel had been placed right on state street for passersby to marvel at and guess what exactly it holds inside and I was there to find out. The silence was deafening as I walked around the first exhibits lost in thought and intent on writing down every note and object in sight. Among the works of Valeska Soares I found myself immersed in another world; one out of place and entirely other timely. I perceived that I was back in the 1800s in what felt like a hospital where the furniture and pillows twinkled white and were scattered amongst the floor while maids and nurses distracted themselves with embroidery hoops and books. One room even evoked the feeling as if you were looking up at the trees through a window dreaming of better days with the patients. I was lost in sadness for them as well as their deep emotions as if trapped inside the bottles of “Pathologies” in which the artwork spoke for itself as the lined perfume bottles were labeled with the words “Obsession” and “Passion” printed sporadically on each bottle. Looking deeper into the meaning behind this artwork, it was as if love was the patient’s disease. The one incurable thing that sealed their fate. This tone of solitude, love, and longing all derived from the fact that the perfume of obsession and passion were mere masks to cover up that loss of love. The emptiness of most of the bottles and their noticeably different heights and sizes all added to the inherent desperation of the piece. Soares used line and shadow in creating this specific installation piece in her collection that while appearing insignificant and simple, seemed to be in fact the first telling piece that connects one to the space and the deep and straightforward sub-context of the whole collection. The work could be described as an element standing apart from the rest, but still incorporated in the essence of the collection.

This was the first art installation you are met with as you first enter the museum. I absolutely loved the framed book covers on the wall. It forces your eye to travel all over the wall adding an elevation to the piece that is heightened with the pieces on the ground.

Whilst wandering further into the museum the vintage theme progressed with art pieces involving vintage stools, dangling light bulb strings hung from the ceiling, intricate glass and mirror creations as well as wooden bedposts and fabric book covers. All of which were delicately placed and installed to evoke this feeling of other timeliness and in an effort to transport museum-goers to another place and another emotion. Although I was alone and cautious to not speak to many people, I did speak to a security guard that noticed my fascination and informed me that I was allowed to touch and pull the hundreds of dangling strings attached to the ceiling of light bulbs included in the work, “Vaga Lume, 2007.”  I was shocked that I could actually participate as I had been so careful to not make too much noise or to disturb any of the other exhibits. This room in particular, however, seemed brighter, friendlier, and more playful than the others. I recall the security guard also told me about when a young man who was an art major was informed of his right to play with the piece, he was particularly creative and turned off all the lights and then took his time to spell out his name in the twinkling lights above by pulling on each string. Fascinated by the story, I looked up at the huge rectangle of lights and began pulling on them whilst simultaneously getting my hair caught amongst the string. Three other museum-goers joined me and took pictures with the piece. What intrigued me about the whole situation was the effortlessness of the work. The modest aspect of a simple light attached to a ceiling and the human’s natural reaction to create and be inventive when introduced to this object. In a way art in history has displayed this human aspect; the importance to test one’s creative boundaries and putting one’s stamp on something to connect with a piece, object, or place. For example, in the depictions done in “Chauvet Cave” by paleolithic people, although their purpose is unknown to why they choose to paint the animals on the cave walls, the fact that this instilled importance of artistic expression was an imperative part in human culture even back then shows how we haven’t really changed a lot in that sense. We are still curious, playful, and creative beings that seek to put their own individual stamp on the world.

I believe both works are realistic in the sense that they are real objects used in society and by people in general. Although the string light bulbs are outdated, there are still some homes built that have pull string lights, but I believe they are not as common today. They are seemingly irrelevant in that we have so many different forms of light today that the pull string light has become relatively obsolete. Especially in connection to the space, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art building does not look particularly old in that it has been renovated several times and expanded in the years, it has been open since 1942. This being said, the work in relation to the space is slim to none in that it does nothing to the space but creates more light in addition to the mood lights already installed in the building. “Pathologies” on the other hand is also realistically styled in that perfume bottles are still used by many people today and with the names “Obsession” and “Passion” one does tend to associate perfume with feelings of lust, love, and sensuality which are real emotions and realistic associations. I am not entirely sure of the context of the work in relation to the space and the surrounding pieces of marble pillows and bed, linen and wooden embroidery hoops, and the oval-shaped collection of ripped-out pages on the wall. Perhaps, it was telling the story of the room of a person confronted with their obsessions and passions every day. With the bottles, almost all empty, in a tantrum like madness threw their pillows on the floor and then seized to exist altogether. All that was left behind were the crystallized pillows, much like the crystallized animal skulls in “Chauvet Cave,” which signified the preservation of that snapshot in time and captured the strong and intensified emotions of whomever it was.

What drew me to both of these objects so heavily was in correlation with my own personal feelings and how I connected with them reflected on my state at the time. Beginning this new life of mine on my own and in college as a first-year student I find myself longing for lasting relationships with people whether it be as friends, professionally, or with love as an interest. The unpopularity and simplicity of “Pathologies, 1994” allowed me to connect with this overwhelming emotion of desperation for passion and love, and the way it was so delicately represented connected to my inner sadness and longing for understanding and connection. In complete contrast to that feeling, “Vaga Lume, 2007” was an entirely new experience that appealed to my playful side and allowed me to connect with those around me in that sense as it was something I could touch and I felt as if I could speak louder in the room because of the interactive aspect that drew people in. Both pieces of art being straightforward and uncomplicated by massive amounts of color or design, I believe spoke to the political nature of art in today’s society and how modern art has not been overly demanding of the artists and actually draws more from history than it does from new-age innovation. 

 Visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art felt like a personal journey as well as an educational stepping stone for all who admire and assess the artworks there. The overarching essence of the passions of the pieces, as well as the solitude and desolation of each work, only enhances one’s experience of the museum and this is what I gathered from attending the museum. I believe there needs to be more appreciation for the arts in that more people in society need to be connecting with this deep emotional self-reflection as this has aided people since the beginning of time and helps younger generations understand that feeling passionate, playful, and lonely are all completely natural characteristics and emotions involved in the human experience.

Thank you so much for reading and if you have the opportunity, go and support your nearest museum! There is so much to learn and so much beautiful art to experience! Until next time, thanks again!

If you are interested in checking out the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and what their current exhibits are, the link below is their website that has all of their information and coincidentally as this post came out, today was their official grand opening since being closed due to COVID-19!

2 responses to “The Santa Barbara Museum of Art”

  1. Oh, this is another outstanding piece of your beautiful writing skills mija. Thank you for sharing your amazing reflections. Proves how beautiful you are inside and out.


  2. I really enjoyed this piece Victoria…keep them coming!


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