Paris in My Pocket: Art History on My Phone

Paris in My Pocket: Art History on My Phone

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Taken by Pete Linforth. Image © Pixabay

Several years ago I participated in an experiment to bring about “digital mindfulness.” The project required a goal. I chose improving my knowledge of French. What else? A perfect excuse to indulge my francophilia for a good cause. I switched my smartphone from “English” to “French” and cruised the ‘net looking for websites and blogs featuring art, fashion, horoscopes, celebrity gossips, and serious news (or so we thought back then)– tout en français. The results exceeded my expectations. Instantly, my smartphone became my personal French tutor, all day, every day. Moreover, the constant video feeds offered educational petites pauses that brought Paris’s art scene into the palm of my hand.

So, if turning your smartphone into your new BFF (Best French Friend) sounds appealing, change the language on your smartphone or tablet to “French” and say: “Bonjour, Siri/ Google/Cortana, je cherche . . . .Et voilà: Paris will faithfully appear, like the March Hare, to lead you down a digital rabbit hole of irresistible virtual adventures.

Taken by Pexels. Image © Pixabay

For a truly gratifying escape, opt for videos, which effectively transport you to a French or francophone destination. The sights, sounds and ambiance will kindle your memories of smells, flavors and textures. To fully indulge, curl up with your favorite French wine and cheese. Munch on a crispy baguette and settle into a binge that takes you out of your immediate environment and into a longed-for French locale. I usually head for the videos of art exhibitions in Paris, which Google Discover posts on my Pixel, or I look for French television news casts that review cultural events in Paris. Here are a few museum websites I check out on a regular basis:

Musée d’Orsay: This website features numerous videos that introduce exhibitions past and present. Now you can see snippets of the current exhibition Degas à l’Opéra (through January 19, 2020). Mainly in French, you can turn on the French subtitles for aural and reading comprehension.

Centre Pompidou: The museum’s videos are located on its own Youtube page, providing quick overviews of the museum’s numerous exhibitions. Most are in French. Here is one video in English.

Musée du Louvre: Videos from the Louvre are available with Flashdrive software and on their Louvre app, which you can download into your smartphone.

Musée de l’Orangerie: The museum’s website hosts a treasure trove of films on its page “galerie vidéos.” There you’ll find short videos of past and current exhibitions; the series “Une Oeuvre, Un Regard,” that features artists and curators discussing one work of art in the permanent collection; a conservator’s perspective on cleaning Monet’s panoramic Waterlies paintings; and a curator’s tour of the work and its history—perfect for French teachers or art history profs looking for educational material.

Musée Marmotton Monet: This museum’s website requires a bit of exploration. The videos are located on the pages dedicated to each exhibition. For example, Figurative Mondrian opened on September 19, 2019 and continues through January 26, 2020, offering a unique opportunity to study the realistic images by this famous De Stijl abstractionist. These early 20th century works reveal Piet Mondrian’s appreciation of the human body, architecture and landscape.

Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac: Located on their YouTube cite, MQB videos capture current and past exhibitions at this magnificent museum, effectively inspiring our desire to learn more about the arts of Africa, the Pacific, the Americas and Asia.

Institut du Monde Arabe: The Arab World Institute website offers a virtual tour of the museum’s permanent exhibitions on its webpage “Museum.” There you will also find a video that describes its elegant Jean Nouvel building.

Musée de l’art et histoire du Judaïsme: Videos for MAHJ can be found separately from its website on its Youtube page. My favorite is not about the museum at all, but a tour of the Marais, which strolls through the restaurants, delis and patisseries. Warning: Seductive close-ups of apple strudel and baklava.

Château de Malmaison et Bois Préau: Numerous videos and a virtual tour of this magnificent château are located on this museum’s website, which gives you a quick glance at the exhibitions currently on view and from the past.

Château de Malmaison. Image © Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Le Musée Picasso: Videos about Picasso abound on YouTube, above all those created by the Parisian museum dedicated to this extraordinary Spanish artist. If you were not invited to the exclusive scholarly Picasso symposia in 2015 and 2016, don’t despair. They are posted in their entirety on the museum’s website. So, now without worrying about travel expenses and conference fees, you sit through all or some of these lectures by the world’s leading Picasso experts while drinking your morning café or evening cognac in a comfy chair. Art history heaven.

Taken by FunkyFocus. Image © Pixabay

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Purchase College in Westchester, New York. She has recently published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art."

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