A Field Trip to the Barnes Foundation for PSYC 474

A study once found that the average person spends only about seven seconds looking at each work of art when visiting a museum. Although I’d like to think of myself as someone who does my best to appreciate fine art, this statistic definitely applies to me. As a result, when my professor for PSYC 474 (Being Human: The Biology of Human Behavior, Cognition, and Culture) told us that during our field trip to the Barnes Foundation, a renowned art museum in Philadelphia, our assignment would be to observe the same painting for an hour straight, I was both intimidated and slightly skeptical at what I would get out of this experience.

The premise of PSYC 474 as a whole was to analyze human neuroscience to determine what exactly about our brains distinguished us from other species and made us uniquely human. We approached this goal by dissecting a different theme each week. For the week of the field trip, the theme was aesthetics and how our brain processes fine art and beauty, making the Barnes an ideal location to explore this topic. Once we arrived at the Barnes, we were given a guided tour of the museum that was a combination of art history and neuro- aesthetics – an incredibly interesting combination. At the end of the tour, we chose which painting we would observe. I personally chose George Seurat’s Entreé du port de Honfleur, which was a portrait of boats on a body of water.

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire hour of looking at only one painting While it took a couple minutes to get over my initial restlessness, I quickly began to realize both how much more detail I noticed and how much more of an emotional experience I had by being purposeful in my observation. While this class was meant to be specifically about neuro-aesthetics, this assignment made me appreciate not only this specific painting but also the effort all artists put into their work, which is not something I would have predicted to get out of a psychology class. Learning this unexpected lesson reminded of how unique the opportunities Penn classes present are, as well as the importance of always being open to these new experiences as you never know what you’ll gain.

-Rudmila R, C’19