Author Archives: Banruo Xiao

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery


This paper will be in the format of a case study to analyze the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Through the whole semester, we learn about the idea of the museum as an interface, the interconnection among art, media, and technology, and the principles and definitions of visual semiotics. This paper will take the gallery and the exhibition “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” as an example to test the knowledge. Readers probably can get a sense of what the functions of the museum are, how technology helps the museum achieves its mission, and how semiotics make the viewers better interact with the exhibition and the culture.

Arthur M. Sackler

Dr. Arthur M. Sackler (1913 – 1987) was born in Brooklyn, New York, and received education from New York University. He was known as a physician and a doctor. Dr. Sackler founded many scientific institutions and had his own research laboratory. He published 140 papers in neuroendocrinology, psychiatry and experimental medicine. The research into the metabolic basis of schizophrenia was considered as his best contribution.

Arthur M. Sackler

At the same time, Dr. Sackler was an art collector and a connoisseur. He collected thousands of art pieces and established galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University, a museum at Harvard University, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art in Washington, DC. Metropolitan Museum is the first Asian art gallery in the United States, at the age when Asian art was underappreciated. More than that, after his death, his widow opened a teaching museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University in Beijing, China, to fulfill his wish of creating bridges between people.

He believed that the relationship between the knowledge (arts and sciences) and the humanities as inextricably connected. In a speech given at the State University of New York, he observed: “Communication is, for me, the primum movens of all culture. In the arts… I find the emotional component most moving. In science, it is the intellectual content. Both are deeply interlinked in the humanities.”

History of Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

On May 21, 1979, the US Congress passed legislation authorizing construction of museums and public spaces in the quadrangle behind the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Castle. On December 23, 1981, federal funding was approved, and combined with Dr. Sackler’s donation of 1,000 pieces of Asian Art and $4 million funding. The Sackler Gallery opened to the public on September 28, 1987.

96 percent of Arthur M. Sackler Museum resides underground, which was designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian of the Boston firm Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott. Carlhian carried out the concept of a linked underground complex of buildings. “It was placed adjacent to the Freer Gallery of Art and decorated with triangular forms to reflect Islamic design motifs. The pink and gray granite reflects the colors of the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Arts and Industries Building, and the Freer Gallery of Art. The Sackler Gallery is entered through a 4,130 square foot granite pavilion located in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. The rest of the 115,000 square foot structure is built on three sky-lit levels extending 57 feet below ground. The Gallery contains 40,905 square feet of public space for exhibitions and public programs (Smithsonian Institution Archives).”

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The museum is an interface

According to James Cuno, cited by Andrew McClellan (2008), the functions of museums like Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are more than preserving treasured objects and educating future generations. For Cuno, art museum provides a platform for invaluable objects made by different people with various background, which enables visitors to think “in a larger flow of human experience and to empathize with others through a shared appreciation of beauty (p.10).” People could see the world at a different angle and have a conversation with the objects “across the divisive boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, and religion (p.10)”.

Meanwhile, Andrew McClellan states that the functions of art museums: “—conservation, acquisition, scholarship, education—are increasingly directed toward, and justified by, this encompassing humanist purpose (p.20).” His definition of art museum’s functions matches Dr. Sackler’s idea that knowledge is closely related to humanities.

Moreover, Martin Irvine mentions that museum, as a sub-system of the art world, is a medium and or mediator displaying the cultural category of art (The Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld). He further explains what “the cultural category of art” is. On the surface, the museum only provides the conceptual and symbolic context of art. In fact, art itself can hardly be defined separately from institutional and cultural categories. The presentation of art keeps redefining the culture through the history of art. And the updated cultural things can be learned in the museum.

Hence, according to Cuno’s, McClellan’s and Irvine’s ideas, art museum not only presents the content of art itself but also exhibiting the inseparable connections between art, culture, and humanity. And museum should be a place helping visitors to understand the culture and history related to the artworks. A successful exhibition, in this case, should at least achieve this goal.

The layers in a museum work on meaning interpretation

To achieve the goal of helping visitors better understand the background information of an art piece, the museum has many techniques and approaches to reach that. For example, visitors can learn information about a museum on its website; visitors can read the brochure which introducing the basic information of the exhibition when they step into a museum; there would a paragraph of introduction besides every piece of art. Moreover, many museums offer their visitors to interact with the art pieces on digital equipment, such as on a touch-screen and/or on a smartphone application.

In this paper, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery could be an appropriate example showing how these different approaches work together like the layers of the museum system to help a museum achieve its mission. For example, one of the gallery’s collections is the bronzed chime, which is the traditional musical instruments in ancient China. the gallery provides a white board containing the textual introduction of the origins and the background history of the chime. At the same time, a projection of a video shows how the chime works. Below every piece of the bronzed object, there is a paragraph description of the object. More than that, visitors can interact with the instrument by knocking the chime and seeing the sound wave on digital displays. Visitors can even learn how to play music with a chime. There is a large touch screen showing the specific areas of a chime. Red spots are marked on the specific areas, where can make the musical notes sound. Visitors can touch the red spots and hear the musical notes.

Art and medium interfaced

In the digital age, electronic equipment enables the museum to better interpret artworks to the viewers. The medium of art information is no longer limited to print media. Janet Murray (2012) introduces an idea of digital artifact (digital medium), which allows human-computer interaction (HCI). He believes that digital artifact is a part of the culture and becomes meaningful through the actions of people who engage with it. The video of how a chime works, the sound wave on digital displays and the virtual chime on the touch screen are the contents of what the digital medium transmits, which are made with electronic bits and computer code. Correspondingly, the projection of the video, the digital displays, and the touch screen are the interfaces that users (museum visitors) can see and operate.

Murray later discusses that media, including digital media, is the building block of culture, which forms the “basis communication and knowledge transmission through time and space” (p.18). He defines culture as a shared understanding conveying largely through symbolic representations, such as paintings, texts, images, and videos. Media can be the building block because it helps with the documentation of symbolic representations. Media ensures that future generations can inherit the culture and spread it to other people with a different culture. The emergence of digital media expands the scope of culture. People can communicate and elaborate their shared understanding in remote space with people who have a totally different cultural background. At the same time, digital media, as a new method, ensures museum visitors to understand the art pieces in a different way from pure text and printed images.

Moreover, Murray’s explanation of the relationship between media and culture refines the function of a museum. On the surface, a museum is a place where art and medium interact. Art is presented in different formats: paper, bronze, wood, etc. In fact, the museum itself is a medium and/or interface allowing people and culture to interact. Visitors with different cultural background come to a museum and see the symbolic representations of a specific culture. The exhibition “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” could be a proper example showing how people with different cultural background and Asian culture interact in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the United States.

An introduction to the exhibition

During Mar. 30th – Jun. 23rd, 2019, an exhibition entitled “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” is held at Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The exhibition assembles “royal portraits, paintings depicting court life, seals and symbols of imperial power, Buddhist sutras and other objects of religious devotion, along with costumes, jewelry, tableware, and furniture.” These objects were originally used by empresses in Qing Dynasty, showing the life of noble women and how they influence the history of Qing. The curators hope to break the stereotype of traditional Chinese women as being passive and submissive through the exhibition. Most of the art pieces come from the Palace Museum in Beijing, China, which is in the Forbidden City – the imperial palace of Ming and Qing Dynasty (The Palace Museum). The exhibition includes several themes: the noble wedding, the crucial doctrine in China – filial piety, and the daily life of empresses.

The art objects

A part of the exhibition shows the details of the noble wedding, containing the album leaves which are ink and color on silk, the wedding dresses, and jewelry, and conventional wedding objects, such as vessels and censers.

From some album leaves, we can clearly see a rigidly stratified social structure in the Forbidden City and in Qing Dynasty. Officials with lower levels are only allowed to stand during the imperial wedding. Officials with higher levels can sit outside the building. Eunuchs and guards are responsible for carrying palanquins. At the same time, on the upper side of the doorframe, there are several “囍”, which is a traditional symbol used as decoration of the wedding, meaning that many joys and happiness. The symbol is still used in today’s China.

The album leaves about an imperial wedding

In fact, “囍” is not the only symbol appears repeatedly through the exhibition. For example, in the wedding dress and the headdress, there is a lot of design of Phoenix, typically representing the noble female. Correspondingly, the sign of the dragon symbolizes the noble male.

With symbols of Phoenix

The ornamentation of “Ruyi”, another common decorative symbol, referring to peace and prosperity in Chinese culture, appears on the clothes and furnishes frequently.


In the painting Flitting Butterflies, “butterflies flitting wing to wing above a daylily refer to Chinese wishes for marital union and the birth of a son (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery).” The butterfly is also a symbol of Chinese culture.

Flitting Butterflies

Another painting Listening to Magpies, Magpies represent double happiness, referring to conjugal joy blessed by son. “The woman fingers an ornament of interlocking jade rings that symbolizes unbroken continuity for a family, and the case holding a cypress bough and fruiting persimmon branch, suggesting: may all your myriad affairs be peaceful (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery).”

Listening to Magpies

Some Concepts of Semiotics

In the semiotics study, Peirce introduces a model of sign. He asserts that a sign should contain three elements: the representamen, an interpretant, and an object. The representamen is the form of the sign; the interpretant is the sense made of the sign; the object is what the sign refers. He also categorizes the sign into three different modes: symbolic, indexical, and iconic. Symbolic sign emphasizes the conventional association, which is a shared identification in a culture. Iconic sign considers more about the resemblance, while the indexical sign highlights the physical connection and/or casual relation (Daniel Chandler, 2007).

In this case, the “囍” is an iconic sign, since it is the letter of happiness in Chinese calligraphy. “Ruyi”, butterfly, magpie, and persimmon branch are more like the symbolic signs.

Except for all the signs mentioned above, there is a special form of sign appearing in the exhibition. Martin Irvine points out the idea of prototype, which is an exemplary model of a type of signs.

In the exhibition, Cixi, one of the most famous female figures in Qing’s history, occupies a large part of the exhibition. Although she was an empress, her political power made her more like an emperor. There are many pieces of the portrait of Cixi in the exhibition, and a special type of portraits is Cixi playing the role as Guanyin, which is the bodhisattva. In Chinese culture, Guanyin is a symbol of compassion. The several different figures of Guanyin Cixi playing with can be seen as a prototype of sign in the semiotic study.

Empress Dowager Cixi as Guanyin

Empress Dowager as Guanyin

People and culture interacted 

As a Chinese, I can understand the cultural meaning behind every piece of art. However, since the exhibition is held in the United States, the target audience would more be American people (including Native American, Asian American, etc.). As one of the functions of a museum is to help people interact with the unfamiliar culture, whether American people could understand Chinese culture within the exhibition or not would be one of the biggest challenges for the curator.

What the curator misses

From my perspective, the introduction paragraph beside every art object explains the cultural background in a simple way. For those who know nothing about Chinese culture, they can get a sense of what the object is and the cultural information it conveys. However, the short paragraph cannot clearly and completely explain the culture.

At the same time, the gallery has its website publishing exhibition-related information. However, the website only contains a basic introduction to the exhibition. For those who are not in D.C. would not be able to see the collections, and for those who hope to do research on it would not be able to take notes.

Moreover, Jay David Bolter (2013) discusses several technologies that can be used in the museum. For example, he talks about the combination of mobile application and augmented reality. The two technologies work together enabling users to interact with a piece of work on their phones. In addition, the technology of panoramas can help visitors see the whole artworks, the environment, and the relationship between the artworks and the museum environment. Overall, every possible combination of mobile application, augmented reality, panoramas, and 3D graphic could make the exhibition more immersive and interactive. Unfortunately, I did not see any of these technologies in the exhibition.


Although it is always a hard mission for the museum to make the visitors and culture better interacted. Luckily, since the museum and the exhibition itself is a filter, the ones who have zero interest in Chinese culture probably would not visit the museum. People who come to the exhibition either have some background knowledge of Chinese culture or are willing to learn about it. In fact, I saw a lot of American old people read the Chinese text very clearly during the visiting.

From my perspective, instead of considering the museum as a place where art – medium interaction and people – culture interaction happen, I would more likely to see the museum as a trigger motivating visitors to learn more about the culture behind the art after they finish the visiting tour.


Andrew McClellan, The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.

Anonymous. (2011, April 14). Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Retrieved from

Arthur M. Sackler. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912 | Freer|Sackler. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Excerpts from Introduction and Chapter 2.

Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre. “Media Studies, Mobile Augmented Reality, and Interaction Design.” Interactions 20, no. 1 (January 2013): 36–45.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to the Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld.”

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics

Sysadmin. (1982, September 15). Sackler Donates 1000 Pieces of Asian Art. Retrieved from

What I Know about Art

Artwork is originally used to record human’s daily life. At first, our ancestors can only draw some rough symbols on the rock, such as animals, sun, and tree. Later, they create paper, pen, and pigments. With the help of the equipment, they begin to explore different ways to record their life and thoughts. The idea of genre appears. We have realism, impressionism, and even cubism. The definition of artwork is no longer limited to oil on canvas and/or sculpture. People can present an art idea with a combination of different materials. More than that, artists now can work with digital display to present art.

Although we now have multiple forms of art, the nature of art essentially is to preserve a piece of memory and to convey a message. No matter the artwork is presented on what kind of interface: two dimensional paper, three dimensional space (museum), and virtual plane (digital screen), all the elements of one artwork are served for the piece of memory and/or message.

The museum idea allows people to consider thousands of art pieces together as a whole, beside just talking about individual artwork. Nancy Proctor mentions that Google art offers high resolution image for art pieces. These reproductions are allowed to take a close-up look and/or a distance of visual depth. Users no longer need to spend time on commuting, and everyone who owns Internet and a device can see the art pieces. Google art is definitely one of the conveniences Internet brings to us.

However, Google art cannot afford us everything. For example, the exhibition, Pulse, we experienced in Hirshhorn Museum cannot be presented on that. Although people can take a video for the human computer interaction and let users know what the exhibition is, however, the video cannot be seen as an art work, especially for this exhibition and other installation art. Indeed, the unique interaction between the installation and “you” creates a piece of memory, and “you” derive your own understanding about the exhibition. This piece of memory and the understanding are the meaning of art, which cannot be provided by an online video.

Although Google art cannot help us have a real interaction with some kinds of art, nonetheless, future technology might make us reach that. It might be the fact that someday in the future, we can touch the screen in remote space. And time will tell us.

A New Interaction with Art

Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre mention that tablets offer users opportunity to view panoramas. The exhibition of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a great example: extremely large screen allows every viewer and participator to see the production of their heart beat clearly. At the same time, the production which is shown on the screen creates an immersive feeling for viewers, enabling them to merge themselves into the whole art work. The exhibition of Mark Bradford has a similar effect. Eight large size art pieces are presented in a circular space, surrounding all the visitors. Everyone is so small in front of each piece of art. Every detail of the art work creates a strong expressive and visual impact.

One of the eight pieces of Mark Bradford’s art work

More than that, the exhibitions of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer demonstrate that artworks are no longer limited to oil on canvas and sculpture. Instead artwork can be a process of human computer interaction, which further indicates the changes of art that are made by technology (digital media). For example, Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre introduce an idea of poly-aesthetics, which means that “a way for the user to experience the world around her as a mixed and hybrid reality of information on the one hand and physical location and embodiment on the other.” Be more specific, with the help of mobile application, artists can examine the relationship between touch, sight, and sound. Art is no longer a symbol of static object. Alternatively, art is three-dimensional and full of actions.

A HCI in the Pulse exhibition

The development of digital media adds a new meaning for the idea of museum as medium and/or interface. Historically, people’s way of interacting with artworks is only limited to observe and touch them. Now, people are able to participate into the creation process of an art work. Visitors do not see themselves as observers anymore. In fact, they are the participators and the producers. This is much deeper interaction than what they can do historically, which is also a new definition of “museum as medium and/or interface.”

The Art Has a Lineage

When André Malraux introduces the idea of museum without wall to present art work, a new way to present all forms of cultural expression in an interface emerges. His idea basically is organizing the presence of art works in the way of combing culture and history related to the pieces. The art works which share similar cultural background or are created in the same period will considerately be presented together. This idea comes from the way of showing photograph (Irvine).

Many artists and intellectuals later follow the path of André Malraux on developing the “Museum Idea”. For example, a new academic subject, art history, comes out because of the idea. Art history, as “cultural encyclopedia”, shows people interdisciplinary knowledge, such as art, history and sociology. Art students no longer only studying how to draw the painting. Instead, they need to study art history to know more about art and how the different forms of art work with social products: culture, history and etc. Heinrich Wölfflin is one of the professors embracing the museum idea with his slide lecture, according to Bohrer, Frederick. Since schools, lectures can be the interfaces allowing lecturers, students and information to interact, the museum idea, in some sense, gives the art a new place to express itself in the art history way.

Gallery of the Louvre, 1831-33, Samuel Morse

At the same time, meta-painting, a special form of art also reflects the museum idea and the idea of cultural encyclopedia. A painting contains many other famous paintings, like a piece of art museum, which is a new way to let people express art. David Teniers, Johann Zoffany, and Samuel Morse are all have worked on meta-painting.

A screenshot of searching Gallery of the Louvre

Now is the digital age. We car clearly find some hierarchy or similarity between the website searching and the museum idea. Since searching engine can be a way to express art and an interface. When typing the name of a piece of art work, the results will not only show the picture of the art work but will also list the relevant information about the art work, such as background introduction and critics. It is quite fascinating that a theory influences the development of mediation, the expression of art and other related stuff in many decades. And we can certainly assume that it will continue to have influential power in the future.

Both Realistic Painting and Photograph can Record Information

“The optical look is a stimulation of a single lens point of view projected on a 2D space” (Irvine, 2019). It is also known as realistic look, interpreting the real world. Johannes Vermeer is one of the artists using optical look to draw. “He learned how lenses and mirrors can be used to make projections of light from three-dimensional objects in space onto two-dimensional surfaces” (Irvine, 2019). One of his most famous paintings, Girl with a Pearl Earring, reflects this idea.

Scarlett Johansson & Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Peal Earring is a typical portrait work. The light comes from the upper left outside the frame of the painting, highlighting the right side of the girl’s face and shading the other side of her face. The girl’s pupils and the pearl earring also reflect the light. This painting looks like someone makes a photograph for the girl, capturing her facial expression and the wrinkles of the clothes. Scarlett Johansson was shot a stage photo when making the film, Girl with a Pearl Earring, imitating the girl in the painting.

The comparison between the actress and the character of the painting emphasizes how the realistic painting and photograph represent the real world: the lens-based projection fixes a 2D image on a substrate. Camera works in the way that painters use their retina to capture the picture in front of them.


Artist Defines Genre, but Genre Cannot Define Artist

Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso are one of the most famous artists in the Modern period. Their artworks are also one of the most representative pieces for some genres: Impressionism and Surrealism. Although Claude Monet is famous for Impressionism, and Pablo Picasso is one of the beginners doing Cubism, however, they do not only draw the paintings they are famous for. For example, Monet has Sunrise and Jerusalem Artichoke Flowers. Sunrise is a typical impressionistic work, while Jerusalem Artichoke Flowers is more like a realistic art piece. At the same time, Picasso draws many versions of Guitar. Some versions are pretty cubistic, but some others are very surrealistic.

These comparisons indicate that every artist might have tried several styles and genres to express their ideas in their life. It is not appropriate to simply say that Monet is an impressionistic artist. According to the study of semiotics, there should be some pattern or prototype among the works for each artist. Adam mentions that the use of colored shadow and reflection is Monet’s expertise. In this case, no matter which genre Monet’s art pieces belong to, the shadow and reflection are the prototypes of Claude Monet’s artwork.


For the series of Guitar, Picasso does not only try it on two-dimensional work. He also makes sculptures of guitar, which is a three-dimensional piece, becoming one of the pioneers of Cubism. In some words, Picasso also changes the medium of expressing art: any material besides paper and canvas can also be used as the medium reflecting the artist’s idea.

Indeed, the Modern period has never had been defined before Monet, Picasso and other artists shaping it. The development of every genre is actually a fusion process of many artists’ attempts and personal styles.

Questions Related to Art & Semiotics

Research Questions

  1. For professionals who work on identify whether an art piece is fake or not, how do they use the concept of semiotics to make the justification? For example, each artist may own a particular prototype to represent their works. However, since sign and symbol are repeatable, how can an art appraiser identify the authenticity of an art piece?
  2. Each art piece may have a certain classification. For the art pieces with the same classification, they might share a particular meaningful pattern. What is the pattern of expressionism?
  3. The art pieces sharing the same classification must have some similarity. The similarity can be seen as a type of symbols containing in the art pieces. What factors can be counted as token symbols?
  4. An art piece can be a cultural encyclopedia. For example, The Last Supper tells a Bible story. It can be a cultural encyclopedia because it is realistic and directly reflects the content of the story. Can abstract art be a cultural encyclopedia, in this case?
  5. If Girl with a Pearl Earring is a signifier, what then is signified by this painting?

Interpretation Questions

  1. Is the digital reproduction of a painting a token of the original piece?
  2. Is there any specific difference between sign and symbol?
  3. If a whole piece of artwork is a dialogue, what factors are the letters composing it?

Reviewing on Samuel Morse’s artwork

Group: Banruo Xiao & Siheng Zhu

Being an artist and a creator of the standard telegraphy technology

In the context of his age, Samuel Morse’s artworks did not comply with the mainstreaming style, romanticism. His meta-painting style, with the help of camera obscura, makes his artwork like a magazine layout, which composing the people and the paintings together in one page with no obvious personal emotion.

Morse gives his own definition of art, “A picture then is not merely a copy of any work of Nature, it is constructed on the principles of nature. While its parts are copies of natural objects, the whole work is an artificial arrangement of them.” Sarah Kate Gillespie gives a more precise comment on his artworks, “Like a telegraphic message, these painting each contain mechanically transcribed parts that were assembled into a complete whole.” Probably that is the reason why Samuel Morse later created Morse code instead of continuing working on art.

Both the artworks and the code, from Morse’s point of view, are merely a medium conveying message or starting a communication. The medium is less important than the content hiding in it. And the most important thing is how to let two people stay on the same page when reading the same section of code or the same piece of artwork. It is easy to achieve the goal for Morse code as long as establishing a standard for code interpretation. However, it is hard to do it in the painting, which can explain why Samuel Morse never becomes a successful artist at his age.

From ‘The House of Representatives’ to ‘Gallery of the Louvre’

As one of his earlier meta-painting pieces, ‘The House of Representatives’ featured an original scene of representatives preparing for a meeting; a peaceful, cooperative, and democratic scene that aimed to show the central ideal of America. Besides, if one looks closely to every character in this painting, every one of them seems to be an individual portrait of themselves. However, the major ‘flaw’ of this meta-portrait may lie here, since there is not much life-like expression or interactions in this painting, thus lead to a rather ‘dull’ scene.

His later work, ‘Gallery of the Louvre’ during the 1830s is also an interface of transmitting his ideas. However, instead of using portraits of people, he emphasized more on famous paintings in the Louvre. His use of camera obscura, as well as meticulous sketching and re-producing these artworks, has made this meta-painting a masterpiece of high precision. Also different from other artists such as Zoffany of the late 18 century, Morse’s meta-painting features a more ‘democratic’ view of the museum, instead of showing off wealth and prestige of the rich.


Morse’s life, as pointed out by professor Irvine, is a pursuit of “encoding and transmitting meaning.” Both of his paintings mentioned above are his attempt to “encode” his value of American Democracy and transmit it to the public. Many of the recent technologies such as the Google Art Project and numerous other museum interfaces seem to be the technical extensions of Morse’s meta-media idea.


Week 3 – A Reflection of the Phillips Collection Visiting

Banruo Xiao

Professor Irvine points out that, “The art-world maintains and sustains the semiotic resources for ongoing recognition and interpretation of the symbolic value and concepts associated with arts.” Each painting can be seen as a medium expressing the message that the painter leaves in there. During my visiting of The Phillips Collection, I look closely at the brush works of several famous painters.

For example, Vincent Van Gogh uses many bright colors, such as green and yellow, with very sharp and agitated brushwork, showing the vigorous feeling of Van Gogh when drawing this piece of work. A contrasting work will be the Painting No, 9. Although this artwork also contains several bright colors, the brush strokes are very flat and straight. The painter, Mondrian, never uses extra pigments, unlike Van Gogh. The whole piece looks very impersonal. The two different ways of brushwork show completely different emotions and even the painter’s characters. In some word, the artwork, as a medium, delivers painter’s unwritten message.

More than that, Howard Becker mentions that art-world involves collective activities. The museum, as a medium, provides a space for painter and viewer to communicate. The paintings are more like the interfaces that painter or owner interacts with the viewer. In this sense, each viewer might have different ideas and feelings when gazing at a particular piece of work. When I feel the emotion of impersonal and sober for Painting No, 9, someone else might be capable of grabbing the vivid lively mode hiding behind each colorful block.

The Internet, today, is convenient for users in many ways. People do not need to actually go to the museum to see the artworks. The museum builds its own website, photographing all the collections and showing them on the website. If considering the art-work as an interface connecting painter and viewer, the photographs, are merely the interfaces between photographer and viewer. If this is the case, can people really be able to understand the artworks online? I will leave a question mark at here.