Italian Nibble: Salami and Art History

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I became one of those people who ended up working in a career path that has absolutely nothing to do with what they studied while at University.

I was an Art History major which has always thrown the guys and gals working in the IT departments that I have worked in for a huge loop.  It just doesn’t compute.

Their reaction is usually something like, “You studied art?  And now you work in IT?  How the heck did that happen?”

And when I tell the tale it always seems so natural to me, so matter-of-fact, so not a big deal.

I needed a job.  And I got a job in the Graphic Design department of a giant corporation and then I got bored.  REALLY bored.  So, I started venturing over into the offices of the IT gang. 

There was always some sort of craziness going on over in their offices and a lot of shouting while drawing on the dry erase board.  I would come to know later, that all this commotion and energy was usually due to some sort of crisis situation that needed urgent attention, “The Billing Department can’t bill!”, “The data in the P&L is not correct!”, “The warehouse can’t receive!”

Over time and little by little I was taught how to do simple SQL queries.  Then, the mothership landed and I was asked to be part of an ERP implementation team.  They shipped me off to Georgia for some training and after lots of projects and upgrades, a few moves and far too much learning on the go (newsflash:  people who work in IT departments are the fastest learners in your company – tis totally true, I swear), IT is where my groove has been going down for the past 15 years.

The last two jobs that I had in the States before moving to Mauritius had me up to my ears in Financial data modeling and optimization for cube design to use with BI and hauling my bum up to a project in Montreal every week to manage, test, tackle, wrestle, train and config the crap out of some complex ERP to ERP interface situation for a large international company.

What I’ve been doing for work these many years is a long jumbled path from those wonderful college days of sitting in the dark looking at slides of old stuff.

Now, thinking back on the subjects that I studied, I have no regrets; but I’m also wondering, was Art History one of the laziest majors? 

I mean, there weren’t very many of us and the majority of our classes were, indeed, held in the dark.

And if you were sleepy from going out the night before (not that I EVER did this), you could usually snag a seat by the slide projector (yes, young thangs, this was before the days of digital – it was all on – gasp! – slides) where it was usually nice and warm due to the fan blowing out hot air.  And if you happen to close your eyes for a few moments to fully appreciate the beauty being shown to you, no one really noticed. 

While other students were busy trying to understand how to properly construct a balance sheet (something I had to muscle through once in the workplace), we would sit in a gallery or head to a museum and stare at some object of beauty and then write down our thoughts and any remembered facts about it. 

It was really a lovely area of study and I fell in love with all the stories that were told to me about the sculptures, paintings and buildings.  And not only did I fall in love with the objects, themselves, but with their creators and the periods in which they were created. 

But, there was one period and one class in particular that I dreaded going to each week.  Medieval Art History was a class that was required for my major and I simply had no choice.  Could a class be more boring?  Everything shown to us looked far too similar to easily identify any difference (again, were we just really lazy?) and my class was taught by a crotchety old monk (yes, this PK went to a Catholic University, I guess I just like to mix it up) who should have retired long before he actually did.

And there is nothing like spending 90 minutes in a dark room with your fellow Art Historians in the making, a monk, a slide projector and image after image of the Madonna and Child to induce a Medieval sleep-coma.

Florence, Italy has a huge amount of buildings and art from the Medieval art period.  It was one of THE hot spots when the Medieval period moved into the ‘Holy cow! We now know how to paint elbows on people.  High five Tuscan artists!  Now, let’s go see if the Medici family will throw some cash at us’ High Renaissance period.

While in Florence, you will soon come to know that almost every church has a collection of Medieval paintings which are now housed in some sort of museum.  There is also plenty of Medieval art at the Accademia or at the Uffizi or anywhere, really.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the toilets at gas stations in Florence housed some sort of Medieval masterpieces.

After you walk around these grand museums for a while with salami-filled hopes and dreams that the next gallery or room you enter will have you hitting the 15th century (oh, please let me see perspective), you are continually brought back into rooms displaying pieces with the classic tell-tale Medieval art signs:

  • Gold – Yep, that’s pretty much everywhere.  And after pretending to look at hundreds of golden painted images (oh come on now, are you REALLY going to look at ALL of them?), you will immediately head to the one image that has absolutely no gold on it and it will be fascinating.  Promise.
  • Lack of Spatial Depth – Yes, if you see people standing on top of people or Madonna holding baby Jesus in a really strange way, that’s the ‘lack of spatial depth’.
  • Unifying Flow of Drapery – Uh-huh, lots and lots of drapery.  They loved to paint them some drapery.
  • No Detailed Backgrounds – Right, that’s because it’s all just one golden blaze.
  • Religious Subjects – Is that a Madonna alter panel with angels?  And is THAT a Madonna alter panel with angels and saints?  And is that one right over there a Madonna alter panel with baby Jesus, angels and saints?

And after walking around and listening to bits of the tour guides’ lectures, “Notice Mary with baby Jesus in the middle surrounded by gold…”  (Ya, I noticed that like 200 paintings ago), you tend to get a little desperate for some other form of visual interest and entertainment. 

At least that’s what happened to me while walking through the Accademia with my travel companion from Chicago last week.  First, once again, a few public pre-apologies.

To those true Art History scholars who may have been in the Accademia while we were there – I am terribly sorry if we disturbed you while walking through, talking and laughing probably a tad too loudly.  But hey, at least we really were ‘looking’ which is more than I can say for many of the other people who breezed on through (“Rick Steves says the Uffizi is a MUST.  In, out.  Great.  We can check this one off the list.”)

To those who love baby Jesus – Take a deep breath.  I’m a PK who went to a Catholic University.  I dig baby Jesus and Mary, as well.  No offense was intended or planned or even half-arse (sorry) thought of at the time.  Pinky swear.  We just needed to spice it up a bit and we were both getting a little punchy due to our lack of any recent salami intake.

If We Taught Medieval Art History, We Would Never Get a Job

Medieval Art History as experienced by the Pilgrim at this particular moment in her life and her rather groovy travel companion from Chicago, the Travel Gal.

Me:  I would call that one ‘Pin-Curl baby Jesus’.  Look at those curls.  Lovely.  Nice and bouncy.  And this one has pretty, fluffy golden hair that’s been feathered.  I like the hair on this baby Jesus.

My Travel Companion from Chicago (continuing to stroll through the gallery):  hmmm…

Me:  And this one has what kind of look like jelly filled donuts, don’t you think?  Maybe the artist never saw an actual breast?  Huh…and baby Jesus is just reaching right on in there for a little donut snack.

My Travel Companion from Chicago (laughing):  And check out ‘Slitty-Eye Mary’ over there.  She looks really mean and completely pissed off.

Me (giggling):  She does look rather upset about something.  She should be happier.  She’s surrounded by gold and saints and has close proximity to baby Jesus.

My Travel Companion from Chicago:  But, what is with THAT?  It’s like ‘Man-Baby Jesus’.  He has absolutely no neck and the chest of a fully grown man.  And what’s he doing with that bird?

Me:  The bird of peace?

My Travel Companion from Chicago:  Is that what that is?  Well, Ya.  He’s squeezing the life out of it while flashing the peace sign.

We both stare at the painting in silence.

Me (erupting into a fit of giggles):  grrr…crushing the peace bird like something out of WWE, “And in this corner we have baby Jesus and he’s – oh no! – watch out! – he’s doing his signature ‘crushing the peace bird’ move!”.

My Travel Companion from Chicago (sly grin as she walks away from the painting):  Better watch your back, Mary.


About Minnesota Pilgrim

A GenX Xpat who moved from Minnesota to Mauritius to France with her Frenchman lover. Multiple cultures, total bedlam, absolute bliss.
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One Response to Italian Nibble: Salami and Art History

  1. Katie says:

    Oh, I really enjoyed this one.

    After living in London and experiencing more are that one can really process in a day, I can understand where the giggles came from. Sometimes you just think really, another one? And this is a masterpiece too?

    In addition, I also find myself working in the IT field, making software for insurance companies, while having no formal education in anything related to computers. (Unless you count my “Intro to Computing” class where we learned how to use Word and Outlook) It’s funny how life turns out that way…

    Hope your enjoying Italy. I’m totally jealous.

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