The Magic of Modern Art

Sherman Fairchild Fellow Chloe Eastwood on her experience as the 2020-21 Digital Fellow at the Phillips.

Installation view of Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

In the past academic year, I have had the great pleasure of joining The Phillips Collection as the Sherman Fairchild Digital Fellow. When I interviewed for this position, one question stood out to me—what I was looking for in a mentor? I answered that I was looking for broader understanding of the museum world, I was looking for some new perspective. I got what I asked for. My mentor throughout my fellowship was Micha Winkler Thomas, Director of Strategy and Operations, and there could be nobody better to guide me through that journey.   

In this role, I have worked interdepartmentally on digital projects including building content for our website and for the Bloomberg Connects app, writing and recording stops for audio tours, and helping with the analysis of our past year in digital experiences. This fellowship has met and surpassed every expectation I had of what it would or could be. Even while working remotely, I had opportunity to meet exceptional people, engage in meaningful projects, and practice old skills and cultivate new ones.   

Someone once told me that the art world was too exclusive for the likes of me, with my history background—I simply did not have the specialization for such an exclusive field. How surprising, then, that I have come to work at The Phillips Collection. When I moved to DC, I began to spend hours and days in the museums. As my knowledge of history museums grew, it became harder to enjoy them as a casual visitor. I could no longer so easily turn off the part of my brain that reviewed and assessed each facet of an exhibit and simply enjoy what I saw and learned. In art museums, on the other hand, I could still simply sit, and see, and think. Art exhibitions would conjure thoughts which could not be made or enjoyed anywhere else. I believe it is the same magic that compels anyone to pursue something as an amateur rather than to pursue it formally. To this day, I say that I know nothing of modern art even though I love it, and even though I have spent the last year surrounded by it, researching it, and formulating ideas and opinions about it. It is because I love modern art that I refuse to let that magic disappear.

My background as a public historian was instrumental in preparing me for this role, especially the skills I learned in my digital humanities research methods class. This groundwork in the fundamentals of new media was the foundation of what I brought to the Phillips. At the same time, because I’m not much of an art historian, so many of my experiences throughout the last year were fresh and exciting to me. Though my time here was brief, The Phillips Collection has challenged and changed the way I interact with art, philosophy, and interpretation, and I look forward to carrying forward with me all I know now. 

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