Entrance to Hagar Qim temple

Experiencing Art in Europe

By Ava Kristy, UC Santa Cruz student studying at Trinity College Dublin

When I left for Trinity in the Fall, I wasn’t really sure what I would occupy my time with. Obviously there were classes, but these took up even less of my time than they did at my home university in California. I knew I should also spend time studying for classes, but honestly how much of that could I be expected to do on exchange in a continent I had seen so little of. Like many other exchange students, I decided the best way to spend my time abroad would be to travel. I decided I would see as much as I could and soak in the culture wherever I went, which is to say I booked plenty of trips with very little in the way of a plan as to what I would do when I got there. No one has ever accused me of being the most organized person. Despite this lack of planning, I knew generally, what I wanted to see: art.

When I started the university, I thought I wanted to be a politics major. I was wrong. After switching to pre-law, back to politics and then back to pre-law, I took an art history class. I took it for a general education credit, a set of requirements across disciplines that all U.S. students like to complain about, but I am actually incredibly grateful that I had to. I took the broadest art history class available: European Art from the Neolithic age through Impressionism. It was a fast moving class, but I felt that I had learned more about culture and society in that class than any of my others. It showed me how art could be an expression of the most profound societal values, but it can also be playful, political and romantic. It can even be all those things at once.

Entrance to Hagar Qim temple
Entrance to Hagar Qim temple

I think to understand a piece of art you have to see it in person. You can learn so much in a classroom or from a textbook, but it’s incomparable to experiencing a painting or a building. That’s why when I got the opportunity to study art history at Trinity I knew I would learn a lot from my classes, but I also recognized it as an incredible to chance to see pieces of art I didn’t have access to in the U.S. This is not to say that there are not incredible things to see in the U.S. I grew up in Los Angeles and was raised going to the many museums there.

Altar in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral
Altar in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral

So when reading week rolled around and all my housemates and I were making plans to travel, I said “I want to go somewhere warm, I miss the sun” and they said “we want to see the northern lights” so we went our separate ways. Again, planning is not my specialty so when I saw a cheap flight to Malta I decided ‘that looks warm and I know they have some cool art’ so I booked it. We talked about some Neolithic temples in the very first art history class I took, and here I was, in Malta, going to see Hagar Qim, a religious site I had written about two years ago. Having studied architecture in the classroom and then experienced it for myself, there really is no comparison. Seeing something projected on a screen has never left me with the impact I felt standing in front of one of the world’s oldest religious sites. It was incredible to compare the experience of visiting that temple with the one I had the day before in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Going from an ancient stone structure to a high baroque cathedral showed me the incredible progression of religion on the island. It left with an impression of Maltese history that text and pictures alone could never have conveyed.

Chapel in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral
Chapel in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral

I have had the opportunity to learn about a lot of different art this semester in my three art history classes, but being able to travel and see the actual creations has made it all the more meaningful.

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