Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Student Reflections on the Collection: Home by the Sea, Part 2

This academic year, the Addison education department has been fortunate to host three Phillips Academy students as they complete their Work Duty assignments. This past term, we asked the students to choose a work of art from the Addison’s permanent collection and to reflect on its personal and academic significance to the student. This is Part 2 of senior Lauren Kim's reflection on Thomas Worthington Whittredge's Home by the SeaPart 1 was posted last week.

Just beyond the homestead in the painting, there’s a bank of trees, which opens up to wide, free-spirited plains. The expansive land is similar to a blank canvas in the way that both spaces are open for creation or imagination to fill them—I feel a connection to these open spaces because they represent the expansion of my own horizons—the life that I’ve already experienced and also what’s to come. The homestead in the foreground comes off as more cozy and tight-knit than the distant land and water. Meanwhile, the land and water are free, boundless, and they hint at the idea of what lies outside the framed perspective of the canvas and the familiarity of home. I feel that the small farm identifies with my house, a place whose bounds I’ve grown up within, and the expansive pasture is a natural representation of experiencing the world for the first time: traveling to different countries, maturing intellectually and personality-wise, learning through personal struggle and victories. Whittredge is able to connect the different tiers of environment seamlessly by painting intricate, careful, and specific strokes and using a palette of soft, natural colors. The plains, the sea, and the sky fade from one to the next in a way that emanates a calming and comforting harmony.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge, Home by the Sea, 1872
The atmosphere of the painting is uncluttered and expansive, but instead of leaving the land completely cleared, Whittredge includes fieldworkers and ships. Although they are a small part of the painting, I find it interesting that he chose to include them. The focus could have been just entirely on the shifting of different aspects of nature (the water, the land, the sky) from one into another, but with the people, I thought about what part they play in the painting. I wondered what kind of backstories the workers on the field or on the ships had. Just spending time looking and reacting to it through my thoughts, I also thought about the correlation between the people and the landscape of the piece. I asked myself “how does the location of the people affect themselves or their roles?” Perhaps the ships and the people in the field represent one’s venturing outside familiar grounds: a departure.

People often grow up in a home like my own, but eventually they have to venture out into the world to discover new experiences and expose themselves to different outlooks on life in order to grow. These life opportunities let us open ourselves to diversity of all kinds—whether religious, cultural, or socioeconomic. If I never left home, I wouldn’t be able to fully realize who I could be—I would be held back by a constant feeling of closeness and familiarity. I found this painting in the Addison Gallery, on a campus that is so incredibly far from my home and everything I’ve come to associate with it. Now, I am someone completely different. I’m not the shy, youngest cousin who feels intimidated by her twenty-something cousins at family gatherings, or the daughter who needs my mom to pick me up from the ballet lessons and art classes that I attended against my will. I’ve changed, and I’m no longer restricted to the world of my home.

When I arrived at Andover as a 14 year-old, wide-eyed freshman, my past experiences leading up to that moment had been within the bounds of all things related to home. Now that I’ve been at Andover for almost four years, I’ve been able to develop this deeper sense of home, not limited by physical boundaries, and the underlying meanings a simple word like that could have for an individual. I think that in many ways, Andover has become a new home for me. Through countless meals in the cafeteria around the grey table with friends who I see and spend time with everyday, early mornings during Winter term shoveling paths outside Johnson Hall, and the enriched discussions that saturate the atmosphere in Bullfinch Hall as fully as my mind. So many aspects of Andover will be cherished after I leave, both the bad and the good times. Through reflecting on this painting, I’ve realized that you can’t experience something twice, or that sometimes you don’t truly know how significant something is to you until you don’t have it anymore. Of course, I haven’t lost my home; when I go back to Bannockburn during school breaks, everything often feels the same as the last time I was there, and yes, my parents, my friends, my room are still there. However, being away at Andover and stretching and growing through the challenging, fast-paced atmosphere at Phillips Academy has highlighted the true invaluable and irreplaceable quality of home.

My home will always give me a warming comfort through my pure memories of my childhood spent there.  When I spend time looking at Whittredge’s piece, I can just for a time forget about the uncertainties of my upcoming transition to college (or even my future at large)—the black canvas that lies before me—and remember my home. I feel that the painting depicts a beautiful scene of my life—how far I’ve come and how much further I will go. Home by the Sea reminds me of the future ahead of me. Symbolically like the open, clear sea in the painting—the same waters that have led countless explorers and expeditions to new, unknown destinations—I have my life ahead of me. Time is coming for me to find myself and establish my identity as a person and whichever roles I will take on.

--Lauren Kim, Phillips Academy Class of 2013