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Went to the Metropolitan Museum yesterday and it was crowded. I’d sent my students on a walkabout to any museum as a mid-term assignment and one had gone to the Met and complained of the crowd, how she was jostled and couldn’t get close to the work, how her notes were all about being jostled, the crowd, and the guards telling people not to take photographs. No Photographs. No Photographs. One of my instructions had been: take notes. The other: eavesdrop and record snippets of conversation. The third: don’t Google any of the artists or the exhibition before you go. And the fourth, unstated, develop concentration, stay focused no matter what else is going on, a reporter’s discipline. Finally, the fifth, also unstated: find the story.

I wondered if I would meet any of my students; I didn’t. Standing in front of a vitrine of corsets for women (to my surprise, men also sometimes wore them), a visitor from Russia told me that, though her daughter is a size #2, she would not fit into any of these corsets. I took notes as she spoke. I took notes as she moved away. I took notes as I moved away. In fact, I didn’t stop taking notes throughout the exhibition: “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity.”

Yes, there was a crowd; it was a crowd pleaser. I knew a lot about some of the artists, next to nothing about a few others. It was a group of artists known for their radical experimentation. They were so talented, so skilled, that they were able to earn their livings as portrait painters of the leisured class. That kept them eating and corseted in many ways but also gave them freedom to experiment. The stays came off.
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