Don’t be grumpy! Museum visitors make a better world through medieval manuscripts in The Chivalry Project workshops
The idea of “chivalry” has never sat well with me. Though it conjures up appealing images of fantasy and derring-do, the social contract of the Middle Ages is also weighed down with sinister connotations of sexism and class divide. In my world, “chivalry” didn’t exist – until I took part in the Chivalry Project workshop at the Getty Center last Friday.
It was the end of a long week. I had spent the better part of my morning fighting through the dog-eat-dog traffic. I was not feeling particularly chivalrous. Yet, seeing as how I had been contributing to The Chivalry Project digitally, I was eager to watch it take on a new, animated life.
The Chivalry Project is a multimedia collaboration between local artist Becca Lofchie and the Getty Museum’s Education Department inspired by the manuscripts exhibition Chivalry in the Middle Ages. Using art-making workshops as well as Tumblr to collectively create a living artwork, the project seeks to record the ways in which chivalry manifests in the contemporary world. While the tumblr has been open for text submissions since early July, the all-ages workshops promise a more interactive experience: guests can view the medieval pages, scribe and illuminate their own, and share ideas what chivalry means to them.
Equipped with gold markers, an assortment of stamps, and folio templates, Becca and Education staff gave micro history lessons to the eager calligraphers of all ages and provided them with historic examples of chivalrous rules, such as “Don’t pick your teeth with your knife.” It wasn’t just little lords and ladies who couldn’t wait to make their contribution to the project—it was their parents, too.
“In general, I’m more curious about what people’s responses are than in defining chivalry for myself,” Becca told me, as she hurried to upload completed artworks to the tumblr. “I’m using a definition that is broader than just how men treat women.”
As I sat and observed, it was clear that so was everyone else.
“Always say no to drugs,” Anthony’s page heralded to the world. When I asked if this was the most important rule, he said, “Yes, but if I had a second rule, it would be to always create new things.”
Amaru, a younger boy, sat with his sister and mother, intently illustrating a rule he seemed to have too much experience with: “Don’t kiss your child at school.”
Every rule that was made seemed to be a personal ideal, a rule that, if followed, would lead to a better world in the maker’s eyes. They were all ways to improve interpersonal relationships or brighten someone’s day.
Struggling to juggle my distaste for the contemporary use of the word chivalry with the unbridled optimism brought on by seeing the 21st-century manuscript pages being created, I crafted a rule of my own: “Hold the door open for everybody.”
It was interesting to see the generational differences at play. Mothers made rules like “No media at the table,” while one of the youngest participants devised the simple, golden rule, “Don’t be grumpy.” The Chivalry Project was providing an outlet to individuals of all ages who see more than a little room for improvement in our modern and increasingly hectic world.
The Chivalry Project workshop went beyond discussions of gender and class, too. Together we shared and recorded our individual ideas of how to make the world a better place. The term “chivalry” came to mean something different from what it did in the Middle Ages. It is not about who should open doors for who. It is about how to conduct ourselves more thoughtfully on all fronts.
The next Chivalry Project workshops take place at the Getty Center on August 6, 16, and 23. You can see what others have created and add your own digital contribution here.