art overseas

Art Overseas: Part 2


Jon and I are back stateside, but before we completely re-enter the world of whatever is to come, I wanted to follow up on my two-part series about art overseas. I can't pretend that these writings are comprehensive by all means. Books have been written, heck grad programs are built on art and culture in these places. So this is just a brief survey. England & Scotland

2 words: Free Museums. That’s what I took away from our month in the UK (plus a newfound love of creamed tea). Art, history, archeology, music, literature – anything that can go into a museum or collection is free to access thanks to the UK’s support of culture and heritage.  Of course London itself is a whole other beast – being an arts capital in and of itself. Unfortuantely we only spend 6 hours in London…. So I just know about that arts-capital-ness in theory.

National Gallery Edinburgh

National Gallery Edinburgh

In terms of immersion, being in the UK didn’t really feel that different from being in the US. There are summer music festivals everywhere with all kinds of music and events. Art and craft fairs are frequent. Pubs and evening concerts are plentiful – especially in the music city of Newcastle, where we went to 2 music festivals and got to catch a CD release party (the power went out so the party continued on the street – pretty cool). Aside form the fact that eating isn’t so much a pleasurable experience in the UK, getting out and doing something arty is quite easy, fun and always interesting.

The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, by the way, was one of my favorite visual art experiences. I event went back for a second visit. Incredible paintings, beautiful galleries, and an excellent contemporary art installations made for an extremely pleasant visit.

??? Lillehammer

??? Lillehammer


I am 100% certain that Norway is full of super interesting cultural goings-ons, but the fact that sitting down for a cup of coffee costs around $15 and going into a museum would mean eating hot dogs for a week, we were unable to participate in much. I do know from my own studies that Norway and the Scandinavian countries in general have a rich folk music tradition, which one can easily access on the radio. Metal and other types of hard rock are also extremely popular here. Interestingly one of the most blatant forms of creativity we saw was in home interior design. Apparently because it’s so cold most of the year people are really focused on making their homes very comfortable, inviting and beautiful.


Painting, sculpture, dance, music, old, new – Spain has it all. As Bruges oozed architectural amazement, Spain just oozes expression.  The Spanish people are already social, gregarious and outwardly emotive, and in my experience they put just as much of that gregariousness into their art. It’s everywhere, and I believe the Spanish are proud of their cultural heritage and dedicated towards fostering creativity for the future.

Not only is Spain the home of the greats like Picasso, El Greco, de Goya, Ramon Gaya and so many others; its museums: the Prada, the Reina Sofia, the Picasso in Barcelona, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, are some of the best in the world. All of this doesn’t account for the local arts, which are well taken care of via local town festivals, galleries, concerts and nightly flamenco music in tavernas.

One of our favorite experiences was getting to see a Flamenco Festival in the small mining town of La Union near Cartagena. 5 hours of dance, guitar, singing and instrumentation was incredible.

Spanish culture is delightful as well in that, especially at night, everyone is out and about. People walk around town, 3 year olds with great grandparents until the wee hours of the morning, just chatting, walking, and enjoying the warm air. I loved that scene.


Before you come to Italy in search of art, of any kind, you should ask yourself: How do you feel about the Renaissance? How do you feel about religious art? Because if you don’t care much for either, or its enormous contributions to Western art and culture, nor its implications on political history (as in how much money the church really had), you probably won’t appreciate much of what Italy has to offer.

Now, we spent the majority of our two months only in the Region of Umbria, With about 9-10 days or so combined outside of the region in Rome and Naples. One thing we learned is how unique all of Italy’s regions are, and also how important Umbria was to the Renaissance. No, it’s not Florence, Tuscany or Venice. But Umbria is home to Assisi – a pilgrimage for many Catholics. Perugia has ancient Etruscan history, and the towns surrounding Lake Trasimeno were the scenes of many battles, including the defeat of the Roman army by Hannibal himself. During medieval times the church had the majority of the wealth and, aside from very wealthy landowners was the only purse able to fund art. Umbria also became an area for many artists to study and practice, artists like Raphael himself who studied with Vannucci, or more commonly known as Perugino, in Perugia.

One thing that is so incredible about Italy is also just how much art is intact from the Renaissance era. From the largest most ornate basilicas and cathedrals to the tiny hamlet church that has a priceless 13th century altar piece inside – it’s everywhere. I’ll admit, I got a little jaded on god art, but one still has to appreciate how much there is, and how these artists paved a way for the development of painting and visual art in the Western World.

Although we weren’t there during the season, the importance of Opera should not be understated, and some of the world’s greatest opera houses are in Italy – fitting for the country that produced Verdi and Puccini. We went to the world’s smallest opera house – it was pretty cool!

But truly, so much in Italy is steeped in old tradition including food and wine. We were amazed at the wine festivals (it should also be noted that culturally, Italians seem to love to celebrate!). Not only were the pours generous, but the wines were good and so was the people watching.

European Diversity

I want to make  quick note about European culture in general. And that’s to say that sure there are a few things, mostly politically and economically that can be generalized, but one reason I find Europe so fascinating is just how unique each country and its people are. France is a completely different ballgame than Spain, and Italy couldn’t be more different from either of those two. Having been to Germany on an earlier trip, I can also say how different that country is from the others. This is really incredible to me especially given that Europe is politically unified.

What's been one of the most memorable cultural experiences you've had?

Art Overseas: Part 1


These two posts (this one and the one to follow) are long overdue for me, and as it is, they are completely inadequate as far as even beginning to skim the surface of the depth and breadth of cultural and creative expression we’ve experienced over the last 10 months. But just as at home, there is art overseas, art everywhere, in so many forms. So as a student of music, an arts administrator by profession and lover of all creative things by person, I offer a super truncated survey on the countries and places we’ve been and my (very) brief observations on the art we’ve experienced. We’ve been a lot of places so I’ve divided this into two posts – one for the first ‘leg’ of our trip – Belgium to West Africa and France; and then the second part after we returned from my brother’s wedding in May back to Europe. I love art and creative expression in all its forms (ok most all its forms, I’ll admit uber-modern conceptual dance isn’t really my thing..) and have kept an eye open for glimpses of how cultures in the 9 countries (10 if you include Vatican City! And 11 if you include our upcoming 2 day jaunt to Istanbul) we’ve visited express or the overarching things that struck me. So here we go: a brief review in chronological order of our travels of art overseas.


Hellloooo gorgeous! Not only did we arrive in Bruges as our first stop on our trip – we arrived in one of the most visually stunning places I have ever seen. You may remember us blogging about it, but Belgium has loads of incredible art and expression oozing from all over. I think Belgium gets a bad rap for being boring (I’ve heard it several times), but I had completely the opposite experience.

Contemporary Installation in a Church

Contemporary Installation in a Church

Both Bruges and Ghent amazed me in the contrast of antiquity and modern right next to and on top of each other. In 12th century churches and cathedrals we saw modern photography, painting and even light installations. We saw modern sculpture in little open squares surrounded by gothic architecture. And in Ghent, an art and design student’s dream destination, we meandered down a world-famous street art alley. All this in the dead of winter – I can’t imagine what it’s like during festival season in the summer.

Beer is also something of an art – and if you are a beer lover like Jon and me you know that Belgium produces an unbelievable amount of excellent brews. And… every brewery needs a label so think of all the artists they’re employing on top of the creativity they offer by making fantastic beer!

Oh, and if you're in Brussels, you must go to the Instrument Museum  - the largest collection of unique instruments in the world - it's incredible!

Mali & Senegal

I generally feel wrong about lumping two countries together because the cultures really are different – not to mention that there are multiple ethnic groups in each of these countries - but there are a few similarities I want to point out here about creative expression. These two cultures, in my opinion, are built upon a very foundation of creativity. The line between performer and observer is much more obscure than in the West – and nearly everyone has some kind of craft or has an artisan in their family. Families themselves are artisanal – as in that family are all blacksmiths, and this family are all tailors. The tradition of craft is centuries old, as is storytelling and history told through music by dignified griots. Both Mali and Senegal are recognized internationally for the musical artists they produce, indeed the New York Times has quite the love affair with Senegal and Mali. It’s not only because of their rich traditional music, which is alive, but also because both countries produce incredible hip hop and rap artists that shake the international scene.

wedding celebration in Mali

wedding celebration in Mali

Being in Mali in January was a very interesting and difficult time. We arrived 4 days before fighting broke out between the French and Islamists who were threatening the security of southern Mali. Places like Timbuktu – the famous intellectual outpost and desert-trade crossroads – was under siege and these people who cared nothing for heritage but only for eternal glory (which I suppose is cultural it its own right – but so very horrible in the way it’s played out via religious zealots…. I digress) – burned and destroyed ancient manuscripts and cultural treasures within the libraries. As if this, and the fact that thousands of people became refugees, wasn’t enough, the very heartbeat of Mali’s expressiveness nearly came to a stop.

Public gatherings and celebrations were banned, simply for the fact that you didn’t know anymore who was friend and who was foe. Public gatherings include wedding celebrations, concerts, night clubs. Imagine Bamako in normal times. Sunday afternoon. The city is alive with multiple wedding celebrations, music, drums, dance, laughter make Bamako come alive. Then imagine Bamako with no gatherings. People got married, but musicians didn’t play, people didn’t dance. And in the North, which was completely held hostage under the most extreme view of Islam, some of the countries biggest rising musical stars couldn’t play a tune – for fear of awful retribution. This was a very different Mali. But what I will say is how unbelievably resilient Malians are. I think that if we went back now, Sundays, and every day, would be filled with expression.

In terms of visual art, and aside from sculpture and paintings made for tourists, I was very interested to see unbelievably large public art works in roundabouts on roadways. I didn’t really see any other signs of public art except these large installations. This is curious to me!

Mauritanian Singers

Mauritanian Singers


…has more camels than people. Need I say more about the lack of public art? This would probably be the place to make sandcastles – really big ones – cause… it’s the Sahara. The one look at traditional music was interesting though!


Sweet Morocco. I’m in love with this place. The blending of cultures and traditions is truly amazing. Berber, Arab, Spanish, Ottoman, French – it’s incredible. Outwardly the architecture is pretty uninteresting. But that’s because Moroccans are family-focused and so the tilework, woodwork, painting, filagre and all of the intricacy you think of when you envision Morocco lives inside the home.

Morocco is a place to overload your senses, and in addition to the sights and smells, the people provide such a warm friendly welcome that you can’t help but feel overjoyed to be there.

We took a lot of bus rides in Morocco – it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around. In addition to the music that was almost always playing for the bus driving (and therefore everyone else), every rest stop in every village as such a sight. Open stalls, butchers with the day’s goats and lamb for sale (yes hanging, for you to purchase), boutiques with tobacco and endless amounts of cookies and tea houses – all with a local radio playing. In the Atlas mountains this was even more interesting for me because all the radio stations were playing local Berber music. Again, the blend of influences of Islamic chant, Eastern rhythms and a special flavor – the native Berber sounds – was simply music to my ears.

I’d go back to Morocco any day – just to be filled with sensory overload. And… to eat amazing food.


Hmm, mon dieu what does one say in a few paragraphs about a country who produced some of the greatest painters, writers, thinkers and sculptures in the Western World (is that too bold?). What to say about the country that welcomed America’s black jazz musicians when we wouldn’t have them; nurtured their art and then let us have them back? The country that gave us French Chanson and Nadia Boulanger and Debussy among so many others. What to say about a country whose language, food, wine and fashion is art? Are you getting the point?

I will say that France, with its plethora of art, has really expensive, and expansive, art museums. It’s very costly to have a holiday in Paris in particular and even with 4 days we didn’t go to Louvre (I know.. I know!!). We did however purchase the Musee d’Orsay/Musee Rodin combo ticket, which was totally worth it, especially if you buy the ticket at the Rodin Museum because there’s never a line. Paris no doubt has some of the world's best art museums, but the gardens, sculptures and simply just the grandeur of the city feels like you're living in a piece of art. The rest of France, with its charming villages, perfectly landscaped countryside and all the wonderful french things that go with it make for a wonderful place to be. Why is it though that American nightclub music is SO popular though??!

To be continued... The UK, Norway, Spain and Italy...