Must-See Picasso Exhibit in Philly—and the Benefits of a Field Trip

If you live and/or work anywhere near Philadelphia, I strongly recommend visiting The Barnes Foundation for their current exhibitionPicasso:  The Great War, Experimentation, and Change.  The exhibit explores the tensions in Picasso’s work around Cubism and realism, and situates that dynamic as a response to the conflagration of 1914-1918.  One highlight:  extensive consideration of the 1916 ballet Parade, along with details of Picasso’s collaboration with Satie, Cocteau, and the Ballets Russes.

While modernists with a variety of specific interests might be keen to check out Picasso, they might also be asking why I’m sharing my recommendation in this space.  I’m very lucky to teach at an institution only 15 minutes outside of Philadelphia, and to live in the city itself; I and my colleagues do the best we can to take advantage of the cultural resources available to supplement our teaching, engage our students, and enrich their experience.  This semester, inspired by one of the #teachingmodwomen contributors, I decided to theme my Methods of Literary Study course (a gateway-to-the-English-major type requirement) around literature of the Great War.  Our main texts were Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, and Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, along with poetry.  Part of my planning from the beginning, too, included taking advantage of the opportunity to visit the Barnes for the Picasso exhibit, announced last year.  I’ve taken students to the Barnes before as part of our study of modernist literature and culture, but this special chance could not be passed up.

I encouraged the students to self-direct throughout the exhibit, asking only that they text me their thoughts as they viewed the works.  I would catch up with them occasionally to share reflections, or text them if I saw something they would like based on the comments texted to me.  Afterwards over lunch, we had a conversation about how we might place Picasso’s work in the context of our understanding of the Great War up to this point.  Getting students out on an excursion like this can be logistically complicated, especially when their schedules are as packed as ours, but it’s more than worth it.

We would love to hear from readers about how they use similar kinds of excursions in their teaching:  benefits, challenges, suggestions, and good stories!