We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short, personal reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.
This week, educator Kelly Jane Smith-Fatten learns about Michelangelo by drawing from his drawings. To learn more about this work, visit: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/298166/.
Listen to the full series of short reflections here.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
KELLY JANE SMITH-FATTEN: Hi, I’m Kelly Jane Smith-Fatten and I’m a gallery educator.
The past few months, I have been thinking about Study of a Mourning Woman by Michelangelo Buonorroti. It’s a drawing of a woman draped in heavy cloth, made using a quill pen and dark brown ink. The woman’s head is covered in the cloth as well, and she tilts her head slightly down, towards her arms which are folded over her chest, with one hand coming up to her face and covers part of it. It’s as though she’s cradling herself in her arms.
This work has taken on special meaning to me. It was on view in the Michelangelo exhibition that had opened at the Getty just before the pandemic hit. I was fortunate enough to visit that exhibition a few times before the stay at home orders, and it was just magical. I was inspired. I planned to keep learning and spend more time in the galleries, but of course, the museum closed abruptly in March.
At home, I wanted to see if drawing from the image of Mourning Woman on my computer screen could continue the exploration and magic of what it was like to experience the drawing in person. Drawing from drawings is a way to look really closely and learn about what the artist did on paper. Anyone can do this. It doesn’t matter what your drawing comes out looking like, it’s the act that allows you to discover more about the object.
We gallery educators always encourage this in the galleries, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like online. So I pulled up the artwork and began drawing, zooming in really close to see the details of Michelangelo’s line work: where he chose to draw lines closer together or further apart, or where he left the paper clear of ink to create a sense of light.
Eventually, this experiment led to drawing classes I led over Zoom with volunteer docents, focused on Study of a Mourning Woman. They wondered who might the woman be, what she was feeling internally, and how her gestures and the drapery of the fabric expressed that feeling. Their questions and interpretations showed me that there are so many possibilities within this one drawing.
It has become a kind of friend, as can happen with art sometimes. I connect the posture and emotion of the Mourning Woman with how I’ve felt now and then during this exceptional time.
But drawing from this object, I am reminded of Michelangelo’s words to his student: “Draw Antonio, draw Antonio, draw and don’t waste time.” To me, these words are a hopeful reminder that art matters, what we do now matters.
CUNO: To view Michelangelo Buonarotti’s Study of a Mourning Woman, made about 1500–1505, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll fin...