Elm City Scrapbook is a column alternately written by Daniella Sanchez (MC ’25) and Catherine Kausikan (GH ’25), which each week reflects on a different artwork in and around New Haven.
Before winter break, deep in the trenches of finals season, when the hours beat away to the rhythm of fingers hitting the keyboard as we wrote our final papers and strained our eyes puzzling over study guides, my friend and I took a break to visit the YUAG. We looked at Greek statues, and observed, obviously, how they never seem to have any arms or noses. I had my notepad with me—as I usually do when I visit any gallery—to jot down my thoughts and see if I could come up with something poetic about lost heads and cracked marble. I wasn’t making much progress and I began to feel like I was the one losing my mind from staring at my screen all day.
A young woman approached us asking, “Are you guys students? Studying for an art history final?” She clearly knew what mid-December meant for us undergrads, and perhaps she could read the dread of encroaching deadlines from our expressions.
“Yeah, we’re students. Though not studying,” I replied.
“We’re procrastinating, rather,” my friend added.
“Ah, I see.” We talked for a bit before she proceeded to walk away with her partner, who had joined the conversation half-way through.
As she turned away, I could not help thinking about how our lives as students are consumed by our books, our courses, and our studies. We live almost entirely in our heads in a constant state of collecting and regurgitating knowledge. Moments like these—stepping into an art gallery not to analyze a piece of art, not to dress it in arguments and claims we invent in our minds, but simply to stare and observe its most conspicuous features—are a rarity. However, I want to believe that we can start to find them more easily, that we can make room for ourselves outside all the texts and equations bouncing around in our skulls.
Before classes started this week, I found that time, and I took advantage of it. I wandered into the gallery of Chinese drawings and came across an ink on paper drawing: Old Scholar and Moon Landscape by Ike no Taiga, made in the mid-1760s. The old scholar sits large in the frame, staring at a lightly outlined moon. The moon contains hills and trees within, as if reflecting visions of another plane of existence.
The work made me reflect upon what it truly means to be a scholar. Is scholarship meant to be as laborious as we make it seem? Are we to lock ourselves in the stacks like prisoners? I don’t think it has to mean any of this. Rather, I think it is about creating harmony with our books, loving them, but never forgetting also to love the knowledge that can be obtained from simply meditating, with eyes open upon the moon or the rolling hills.
I am excited that classes have started, eager to return to mornings with a warm drink and my books. My fingers get excited marching across my keyboard, and I can’t help smiling when I step through Sterling’s doors. But I also recall that there exists a Sun, a Moon, broken marble statues, and even my own breath, that are all equally worthy of time and reflection.