by Laura Evers
When you think of the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), what comes to mind?
Perhaps you have taken advantage of the new outdoor Art Climb, or been a longtime admirer of the stunning Chihuly chandelier hanging in the lobby?
Maybe it’s the memory of an excellent docent tour, or chatting with the friendly faces at the information desk?
Or do you recall a particular painting that made an impression, like Claude Monet’s Rocks at Belle-Île, Port-Domois?
Whatever you think of when you think of CAM, it’s possible that their website—what hosts this blog post you’re reading—may appear entirely separate from the museum experience itself.
That’s how I felt once. Like many museum-goers before the pandemic, I only used the website to check the hours or to see if a certain work was on display. For me, the website just provided information about operating policies, and the digital images couldn’t compare to the living and breathing artwork housed inside the museum space.
But as we all painfully know, Covid-19 changed everything—and for museums, it changed how they connected with the public. These efforts included digitizing collections and expanding resources to include more educational and interactive material, such as virtual tours. Maybe this feels like a band-aid as we wait out the situation; we may assume that online experiences are secondary to the real thing. However, I learned that using the website resources before and after visiting enhanced my time at the museum in ways that differed from wandering amidst the hustle-and-bustle of the galleries.
Undergrowth with Two Figures somehow escaped my notice before this year, even though I’m a native Cincinnatian. Since I had to write a paper on the haunting Van Gogh painting, I first went to the CAM website to make sure it was on view. In looking for a simple answer, I also noticed that artwork has Pre-Visit, Onsite, and Post-Visit Guides for teachers that anyone can use. I printed them out and brought them with me to CAM.
Seeing the Van Gogh for the first time felt like going on a blind-date—my heart thumped furiously in rhythm with my footsteps as I made my way to Gallery 233. Once I was in front of Undergrowth, I used the online guides to inform my interpretation of the painting, which not only helped me in my note-taking but also deepened my appreciation of the work’s texture and colors. When I got home, reviewing all the materials recreated the incredible moment of looking at the painting in the gallery, all from the comfort of my living room.
Even after the pandemic is over, I’ll continue to use the website to complement my visits to the museum. If you haven’t perused the website lately, I encourage you to dive right in. Who knows, it might lead you to discover a work of art you have overlooked in previous visits, or cast a different light on a beloved favorite.
Explore Vincent van Gogh’s Undergrowth with Two Figures in person or on Google Arts & Culture.
About the author: Laura Evers was born and raised in Cincinnati and is a PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis. She writes about literature and visual culture, and is a proud member of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.