In a previous piece on ancient polychromy for Hyperallergic, I discussed how certain alt-right groups had begun to appropriate marble sculpture of the classical world as symbolic of white European superiority, when in fact most white statues in antiquity were painted. The piece caused some controversy, to say the least. Although it was misconstrued by some as an accusation that all white statues were inherently racist, the article was in fact meant to recognize that art historical interpretations of artwork have the power to influence the way individual people, groups, and entire fields of study define beauty. In the piece, I suggested that museums could return color to the ancient world by using new projection-mapping techniques to colorize ancient objects (as practiced on the Ara Pacis in Rome or frequently used on the Egyptian reliefs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) and to embrace the use of 3D modeling in museum displays. What I had not considered was a more analog approach to learning about ancient polychromy: the coloring book.
In recent years, adult coloring books have become all the rage — to the point where the thought of one more might make us a little nauseous. But if we consider coloring books as pedagogical tools rather than an amusing activity to partake in while waiting for brunch, we can perhaps use the fad as food for thought. It is not as though museums and libraries haven’t already thought of this. The Twitter hashtag #ColorOurCollections has encouraged everyone from the Vatican to the University of Iowa libraries to produce open-access coloring pages that allow people to better interact with museum collections, archives, and cultural heritage. But there is something special about highlighting student artists — rather than curators, professors, or professionals — who have taken this idea into their own hands.
At the Rhode Island School of Design Museum’s 2017 Museum Summer Teen Intensive, curator of ancient art Gina Borromeo met with teens for an 11-day intensive workshop. As recounted in a blog post on the subject, these students increasingly addressed the role of the museum in presenting and interpreting representations of identity, ethnicity, and status to viewers. The discussion shifted to polychromy, and a debate ensued about how the display of reconstructed color can inform museum viewers. For their final project at the workshop, the students produced a coloring book titled Pigments of Your Imagination: A Color Restoration Book, created in conjunction with artist Sonja John. (You can download it as a PDF or view it online.)
The book has a social justice angle that you don’t often find in coloring books centered on the ancient world, although there are others that discuss polychromy. Just a few months ago, classicist Lisa Trentin published a coloring book for adults to learn about polychrome sculpture called Classical Sculpture in Color: An Adult Colouring Book.
The book addresses a number of the techniques, reconstructions, and ideas forged by archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann and other classicists who are active in reconstructing ancient color. There was also a coloring book on polychromy published by Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum as part of their Transformations: Classical Sculpture in Colour exhibit, although it is in Danish and could only be bought along with the official catalogue. While both Trentin’s and the Glyptotek’s books are important, having free versions undoubtedly would have allowed for greater public engagement with the ideas they sought to impart.
The question of whether we need more educational and interactive material that directly addresses color in the ancient world must be met with an explicit yes. In the past few weeks, this issue has again caused intense — and somewhat malicious — debate in the UK, where a cartoon depicting a dark-skinned Roman father elicited an uproar over whether there truly was diversity in ancient Roman Britannia. Even the well-known (and highly respected) classicist Mary Beard became the target of uninformed criticism and trolling. It is clear that this issue needs clarifying and that it is not going away anytime soon. Even when presented with sculpture, mosaics, frescoes, DNA analysis, and texts that speak to a diverse Mediterranean, many wish to deny it. That’s where modern cartoons, movies, video games, museums, and even coloring books can step in and begin to shift the visual narrative.
The negative backlash I received over the past two months has made me reflect on the fact that when artists or writers release something into the public sphere, they lose control over how it is received, interpreted, manipulated, and remixed. I had largely lamented this fact, but the teens at RISD helped me remember that putting our creations into the world can also have a positive impact. It was also a potent reminder that the next generation is already well informed about these sorts of complex issues and has a hell of a lot to teach us. I, for one, am more than happy to sit down with a box of crayons and learn from them.
Columbia University exhibition thwarts the de-politicization of postwar abstract art with a series of provocative questions.
Some 500 satirical guerilla billboard ads posted across Europe featured texts such as “#SayYesToTheEndOfTheWorld” and “Low Fares to Plastic island.”
Open to scholars, artists, curators, and writers, this new fellowship embraces the interdisciplinary spirit of a pioneering fiber artist and comes with a $30,000 stipend.
Despite his reportedly encyclopedic knowledge of the region’s geologic and mineral makeup, Heizer has displayed a baffling incuriousness about the larger story of the land he digs, cuts, and plows.
Using the pressures of adolescence and indoctrination of the church as a framework, Campbell captures the stress endured by young women and their bodies.
These virtual talks will share details on the MFA and M.Arch programs, alumni experiences, financial aid and fellowships, student life, and more.
The investigation represents the first step of a process to return the works to families and descendants of those who originally owned them.
The menial work, combined $17/hour pay, no benefits, and a lack of support from higher-ups has reportedly led to severe staff shortages.
This new kunsthaus in Potsdam shows modern and contemporary works of art from East Germany in what was once a terrace restaurant.
Eliza Naranjo Morse and Jamison Chas Banks envisioned Giving Growth as a response to the forced isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Latinos represent 18.7% of the United States’s population as of the 2020 census, only 3.1% of lead roles in television shows feature them.
The museum and union have yet to agree on wages and healthcare.