If the seven years I spent in art school before getting to college taught me anything, most of all, it was how to look at my own life in ways that I could better understand myself. I credit my freshman year design teacher for introducing me to the vast and wonderful world of Japanese graphic design with the first high school assignment I ever truly enjoyed. My playful master copy of Tadanori Yokoo’s The Wonders of Life on Earth launched my exploration of both art historical design tendencies and themes that would influence the concept of youth and memory I am still working with today.
The more I developed a concentration on themes of youth, the more I looked into my own experience growing up, the best resource I had. Sort of like how people use Ancestry.com as a jumping-off point, I used the retro Asics box of printed photographs under my bed to start exploring my family history. Searching through the physical evidence of my past helped me to create a narrative I could turn into a series of paintings. My years of carefully flipping through my photo collection to not smudge the glossy 2000s Walgreens prints helped me understand the importance of caution when looking through an important collection. I was able to apply those skills as I assisted with the inventory of MoFA’s Permanent Collection this semester.
Over the years, I have honed my fascination with Ukiyo-e printmaking, a genre of Japanese art that emphasized the pleasures of life and the impermanence of things on earth. Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji series became a highly significant source of inspiration for me. As my work moved further into the symbolic and metaphorical realm, his multi-angled image of a sacred landmark of the Japanese landscape wowed me. The series served as an amazing connection to my grandparents’ old Iowa home, the landmark of my artistic concept and self-identity, and where I spent much of my childhood. His precious multi-layer woodblock prints leave such a heavy mark on me, yet such a light one on paper. I have spent years examining Ukiyo-e prints as best I can on a computer screen, but I never realized how delicate the works are before looking at the real thing closely. Though I couldn’t see a real Hokusai in MoFA’s collection, the pretty broad assortment of other prints and artists from his time I encountered up close helped me contextualize his process. I can experiment with layers and weight in my own way.
When I applied to Florida State, I decided I wanted to study Art History to learn even more in-depth about the art that so influences my own. Interning at MoFA, and especially getting to explore the Permanent Collection in such detail, has opened me up to more tactics of research and what it means to have a personal connection with art, whether it be an emotional connection, educational, or visual. Focusing on what is important to me helps me focus on the art I want to be making. Looking into how even the greatest artists in history practiced the same way encourages me to balance making and learning as much as possible.
MoFA’s Permanent Collection is a vibrant range of artworks, from 15th-century engravings to lithography from past students. As someone with a huge fondness for printmaking as a practice, it was a great privilege to work mainly with that portion of the collection. To interact with real works from artists I admire, like Japanese printmaker Hiroshi Yoshida, and discover many new ones I might not have ever been introduced to outside of my internship has been an incredibly inspiring experience. I have even uncovered new techniques from the past that I would like to incorporate into my future work.
The digital Permanent Collection database is available to anyone who wants to explore MoFA with a closer look. Following this link will take you to the Collections page on the museum’s website. From there, click on “Permanent Collection Databases” and use the guest log-in information provided above the link. On the Permanent Collection page, the small downward arrow in the top left corner will bring a drop-down menu, where you can click “Layout” and then “Web Layout” for the best view of artworks and their descriptions. There is a lot to see, and from my own experience with it, I can assure you that you will be surprised by what you find!
Ava is a dedicated second-year student in Art History and Studio Art at Florida State University, focusing on Museum Studies. She has participated in numerous community art projects and exhibitions in South Florida and has experience in gallery curation. She currently plans to pursue an MFA in Studio Art.