Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

How to find art that inspires when you think you’ve seen it all

Have you ever felt truly inspired in front of a work of art? Have you been a victim to Stendhal Syndrome in the Uffizi, fallen in love with Michelangelo’s David, or remained entranced for an hour in front of a painting? When I first came to Italy as a study abroad student in the Summer of 1997, I trekked unflaggingly up the hills of Rome to explore cold Medieval churches and spent hours seeking out Florence’s lesser known convents, churches and museums. Studying a lot of art history had the effect of taking this initial awe and inspiration out of me. Knowledge overtook emotion, and it’s been something I have been working on getting back as I’ve moved away from an academic career in the past years. Visiting museums and historical sites with non-experts, teaching them about the works but also getting to take part in their reactions, has helped me. But there are moments when frankly, I feel a bit uninspired, so maybe you can help.

I never tire of the view from Piazzale Michelangelo

I never tire of the view from Piazzale Michelangelo

This month’s ArtSmart Travel Roundtable topic is “art that inspires” and this has led me to think about how I might find some art that inspires me in my adopted town of Florence at a time when I feel like I’ve really seen it all. I wonder if this is something other expats experience, or even if, wherever you are in the world, you find yourself occasionally bored of your city and in need of a method to re-approach it (by joel). It’s rare that I write about something without a solution or concrete tips; I’m trying to figure out a few, and maybe you can add your own, or use this as a reflection for yourself.

Before you accuse me of having some serious first-world #expatproblems and tell me to stop complaining because I live in one of the world’s top destinations, let me put this reflection further into context. The other day, two blogger friends, Tiana and Nardia, and I went to check out the new Museo del Novecento, but it was unexpectedly closed. I had happily accepted to tag along on their visit because lately I have found that Florence has not been giving me much fodder for blog posts. I’ve run out of new stuff and covered all the old. Not a lot of exhibitions have opened up since early Spring and I have been too busy with work to travel anywhere. Faced with a morning to kill in town, we racked our brains for places we hadn’t seen yet. They’ve been here for just over two years, whereas I have about fifteen on my record, but even they said there were not a lot of places left on their lists.

I think I have seen everything there is to see in Florence. Or let’s rephrase that. Anything that is worth seeing, in my very fussy, personal opinion. If it’s art and it’s at all historic, I’ve seen it many times, and probably studied it or its historical context in depth. I may have missed a church or two, especially if it’s closed to the public, and of course there are plenty of things in storage that I don’t know about, as well as some modern and contemporary works that I perhaps ought to look into. But if you make a checklist of everything an in-depth, art-loving visitor might want to do in Florence, I’ve done it.

As you can imagine, this can be a problem when I try to publish two articles on this blog every week. I never read the same book twice, but I will hit up a museum or church numerous times if I enjoy it (especially if it’s free!). Generally though, I won’t write about the same topic more than once, even across different blogs. As I have been writing about Florence and Tuscany for 10 years, regularly on 5 different websites and averaging 3 articles week, you can imagine that I’m running out of interesting material. I’m not entirely jaded or immune to the art and beauty of this place – I especially enjoy the beautiful landscape outside the city and I rarely tire of the much-photographed view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo. But perhaps as I get further away from my academic studies of Renaissance Italy, which I connect to its art and that influence how I write about it, I need new ways to approach the art and culture I see.

Here are some of my musings that I hope will get me out of the house and looking at art in a new way soon, with fresh ideas to write about. Are these methods that would work for you?

1) Have I really seen ’em all? I should probably work my way down a list of everything cultural in Florence and see what I have missed. The other day, we bloggers ended up going to the Casa di Dante because none of us had ever been. Now I know why I never bothered to go, and can easily not recommend it. But maybe there is still something worth seeing that would be new to me…

2) New eyes. I could borrow a child, a tourist, or a less jaded friend and try to open my eyes to the way they see art in Florence for the first time. Even if I won’t go back in time to experience inspiration in the same way, maybe I could learn from this or find new ways to help people look at art. This, might I add, would be a really big challenge, because people always look to me as a guide, and I tend to take over that teacher position.

3) Slightly different art. My field of study and interest has always been Italian Renaissance Art. I tend to write about the things that I know and like in Florence (that’s mostly Renaissance), as well as exhibition reviews (sometimes of art from different periods), and of course new things I discover when I go out of town. I’m frankly not a big fan of 19th and 20th century art, living artists or crafts (writing about craftspersons is just not what I do), but there may be other areas of creativity in the city that I could explore and report.

4) Annual cultural events. Special openings and visits offer oft-closed secrets to prying eyes. There used to be a contemporary art studio visit series by the CCC Strozzina, and something like that would be a nice way to discover new art in the city (sadly, the CCC Strozzina is temporary closed for lack of funding). Various associations in Italy hold national events like the ADSI Giardini e Cortili Aperti or the Giornate FAI di Primavera. Although I’m very up to date on what’s happening in Florence, these national events seem to make use of communication methods foreign to me (TV, pamphlets in banks) and I always find out about them when it’s too late, so I am thinking I shall make a calendar of these. Do you know of any other good ones?

5) Reading. I know I should do it. That and traveling are the two greatest ways to be inspired by art… and thus find more fodder for blog posts. Unfortunately, I’m a little short on time these days. I am truly regretting my choice to not respect the traditional month-long Ferragosto holiday because I have too many projects with deadlines in September and October. This is one of my own points that I know I won’t be able to respect.

Now for your ideas! Can you help by suggesting either new approaches, or specific topics or series that you’d like to see on this blog?

ArtSmart Roundtable

This post is part of a monthly series in which art and travel bloggers from around the world blog about a common theme. This week we’re talking about “art that inspires” but you should also check out some of the past topics here! Take a look at my colleagues inspiring posts:

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • tommaso debenedictis

    Have you frequebted L’accademmia ,not the museum but rather the school of fine art. The students are advanced and the director isa wonderful man.perhaps you might like it. You might contact Giuseppe Alberti at the school if you like.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thank you Tommaso, that’s a lovely idea. I am sure they’d be happy to have a visit :)

  • http://blog.tianakai.com/ Tiana Kai

    That’s a clever idea!! I still want to check out 900. Did you go yet, if not maybe we can go next Tuesday.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Tiana, I am saving the Novecento for you!!

  • http://www.gillianslists.com/ gillian mcguire

    Terrific post! I am in the states right now and feeling a teensy bit cranky about life in Italy right now. Your post is great perspective for my return at the end of the week.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thanks Gillian. I am not actually generally cranky about life in Italy right now, nor about my work, which while it’s keeping me overly busy has a lot of interesting challenges and variety right now. Although I probably OUGHT to be cranky about this country in general!!

  • Mirela Cojocaru

    Hi!!
    I’ve actually experienced something similar but with reading…After a period in which I’ve read books that took my breath away, suddenly the cycle stopped and I found myself lost! For few months I was just puffing starting 10s of books and finishing zero!
    So just a week ago I discovered this group organising a workshop in storytelling – the organisers are 2 amazing girls from Rome who have this association called Seeing Stories. What they did in 5 days was at first, helping us get in touch with our sensitivity, then taking us on the streets of Florence and helping us make prepare and show stories that took place long time ago and are long forgotten, with different eyes, with the eyes of a curious and sensitive storyteller. To that they added a part of History (tourist guide) and the result was sweet and it made me go back to read get again, because now I am again able to “see” what I’m reading. I don’t know if this makes sense or is useful to you…They have projects in Florence once in a while and if you want you can get to see what they’re doing (Friday they’re here ;)

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Mirella
    That is so cool! Thanks for the extended comment – I am curious as to how you found arttrav, because I haven’t seen your name on facebook or on this blog before, have I?
    Yes, reading is much like art, and I hate those moments when you start a bunch of bad books. This happens to me too and sometimes I go months without reading a book as a result. I had a bunch earlier this summer. I don’t trust my own choices in books and tend only to like ones that are given to me by a select group of friends. This summer fellow blogger Georgette lent me her Kindle and it has been interesting because it’s like having another bookcase in your house. I found some really great books on it. I have no idea what you like but I found this book amazing – the Red Chamber is about womens’ lives in 17th-century China, which could be really boring, but it reads like an intelligent soap opera type romance, with a long family story based on a historic chinese book that the author has “revisited” for modern readers. Here’s the link on amazon.it: http://amzn.to/W9m2C6 – i see the kind is only 7.99€!
    I have seen that there is a storytelling workshop this week organized by the association chile della balanza, though it didn’t look like they were doing anything quite as practical as what you did in Rome, which sounds indeed interesting, though a bit of a time-commitment for anyone who has to unfortunately go to an office :(
    Keep reading Mirella! Thanks again,
    Alexandra

  • Jenna Francisco

    I wish I had ideas for you, but I don’t. But I experience a similar thing here because I’ve been in the same city for 12 years now. I actually find it fun to learn about an entirely new thing (e.g. wine, food, markets, art galleries…) and am always pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of places related to it.
    P.S. I would gladly slip into your shoes and explore Florence’s nooks and crannies for you :) It’s been years since I’ve been to San Marco, Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, and one place I haven’t been inside yet is the Medici Chapel.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thanks dear! It’s not an easy issue. Actually, having decided my learning was too bookish, I have broken out the old books. I am enjoying them once again!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Murissa,
    That’s a very challenging project – for undergraduates? It expects an understanding of two fields, and well. I would hardly feel up to the challenge myself – also because many “lenses” are not really valid ones for the artwork/period in question. I have always thought, for example, that those Freudian analyses of Leonardo were BS :)
    Alexandra

  • Murissa

    I completely agree – those perspectives wouldn’t fit your period at all. You can’t apply Freud to Leonardo or any Renaissance painting in any serious way but it worked for Surrealists because they took his work and applied it to their own mythology.
    I tend to do what I suggested above but on a smaller scale since I am not writing academic papers any more thank goodness!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Exactly – we know enough to know that certain “lenses” can be applied to certain periods. What I find difficult is assigning that to students. I know eh – thank god we are not writing student papers any more!!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Nicole,
    Thanks for your two comments this evening! So where are you located now? Still finishing up the PhD? I’m curious to know how you found my blog!
    I have kinda come to terms with this moment of missing inspiration, but it is still there. I think in part it is what Italians experience in their own place – they go see temporary exhibitions (which i review – and when I wrote this article, nothing had opened for some time) but they don’t re-visit the “old stuff”. And yes, I need to make the old stuff seem new.
    The frameworks of patronage and social context are absolutely what I studied – I derived from a Baxendallian approach in grad school and did highly contextual work – but there are reasons I don’t do this on the blog very often. First, it’s hard to illustrate. Second, it’s very book-learning derived, which I think is exactly the problem at the nucleus of my lack of inspiration! It’s been almost 10 years since I studied much of this stuff and I think there’s too much distance between me and my books. Most nights I don’t feel like picking them up. In fact they’ve moved from my study to my hallway, so that’s literal distance!!

    The few times I have written kinda more thematic, art-history like posts, they have indeed done well. One of the tops was the one about the tough life of women in the Renaissance: http://www.arttrav.com/art-history-tools/being-a-renaissance-woman/. People also really loved the 2000 word summary of the periods of art one finds in Tuscany – a handy guide for travelers. The lazy part of me also has to admit that these posts take rather more effort than most, and lately I have had very little time :(

    Hope you’ll keep reading,
    best regards
    Alexandra

  • Nicole

    I imagine it can be tough to bridge from academic to blog writing, but I am so happy to see a post-academic doing it! I did my MA with Syracuse in Florence then finished the PhD a couple of years ago (after a long hiatus – I had moved my books to the ATTIC for several years!) I guess you could say I am alt-ac now: working on conference papers – see you at RSA Berlin perhaps? – and an article, involved in other art and education endeavors and getting to Italy as often as we get enough frequent flyer miles! I honestly have already forgotten where I found your blog – slowtrav maybe? FB Florentine page? I’m having a lot of fun poking around, but it sure doesn’t make sitting in the library any easier!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Nicole
    Well I don’t want to distract you from your library time! I wonder what year you were at SUF. I knew your name seemed familiar but can’t place the year… No you won’t see me at RSA – i was at the one at venice and that officially finished up academe for me.
    If you come by florence or just want to chat at any time drop me an email at info at arttrav.com!
    take care, and now go read :)
    Alexandra