Back in Beijing, I often took the 3-mile ride on my bicycle towards the 798 Art Gallery in Jiuxianqiao to see what the beating heart of the artistic community had to offer. Considering myself some sort of wannabe aesthete, I would wander through the pop-up exhibits and often discuss the artwork with anyone present there. A vibrant art scene like this, one without kitsch and with genuine re-invention, is hard to achieve: most cities don’t have the dynamism to reach it.
However, the Boston area, sometimes dubbed the Athens of the New World, thankfully has no shortage of this dynamism. From the well-known Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and Museum of Fine Arts to more thematic and focused galleries, to small exhibits at bookstores and cafés, an art lover has no reason to fear a dearth of aesthetic indulgence. The Museum of Fine Arts in particular is an incredible asset to Tufts students. Firstly, being associated with the School of Museum of Fine Arts means that all Tufts students have free student access to the museum and all of its exhibits (bar those with a nominal extra cost), meaning that a trip will always be in the books - this is particularly true when one considers that the SMFA shuttle can practically deliver you to the museum’s front steps free of cost. Secondly, Tufts has extensive distribution requirements stipulating exploring the foundations of civilization and the humanities - and I think a visit to a museum is always an intellectually stimulating way to engage broader ways of thinking about these subjects.
I recently visited the Museum of Fine Arts with my girlfriend (who goes to Northeastern, many Boston schools have free admission so you can go with friends from other schools too!), and we were particularly interested in the sections on Asian art - having lived in China for my high school years and developed a grasp of the language and culture, its artistic history and conceptual development interests me particularly. I’m currently taking Advanced Chinese I (CHNS-0121), and its focus on a modern cultural material contrasted well with the collections in the MFA; the high concentration of Ming and Qing dynasty art emphasized Confucian and Daoist concepts of harmony with nature and monism (as opposed to Western dualism), ideas that were turned on their head by the May 4th revolution. Yet, it was possible to see through the subtly oscillating presence of Buddhist motifs that Confucianism did not always hold the status it did: Tang art, which predates that of the Ming, seemed to have a lack of reference or reverence for filial piety and rigid social ontology, contrasting greatly with the reactionary Song who followed them directly.
Art has a metaphysically essentially role in shaping our thinking about the world: while we may be able to learn abstract, theoretical concepts or concrete historical information in our classes, our capacity to connect with the fact that all studies ultimately link back to humanity can be hard to access in the humdrum of scheduled school life. Yet, heading to a museum once in a while can reinvigorate your thinking on subjects you encounter every day, academically or otherwise: my visit to the Museum of Fine Arts shaped the subjects I discussed for my written assessment in Chinese class, and also prompted me to re-read some essays by artist-philosopher Feng Zikai on the history of Chinese aesthetics. This is because good art is always sublime: it speaks for itself, and prompts your associative thinking. This is obviously beneficial to any curious student.
As a Tufts student, you are guaranteed two things: one is, you will have no shortage of peers interested in discussing these concepts and ideas, and art in general; the discussions I’ve had here in general are some of the most profound of my life, and I expect that to continue. Two, you have access to a vibrant and thriving art scene which makes sure you never lose any level of interest and can keep you stimulated, and a school which actively encourages you through its curriculum and facilities to throw yourself in. Get to the museum!