Anna Loh: ‘Art is the one constant factor in my life’
Anna Loh is a third-year student of the BA in Arts, Media and Society. We spoke with Anna about what it’s like to write a thesis during COVID-19, Instagram selfies at the museum and growing up abroad.
Painting, writing, painting and… writing
‘Writing a thesis during the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough at times. I miss the library! Staying inside has taken away some of the structure in my daily life, and I have to deal with loud neighbours. But I made little routines for myself that keep me on track. I try to spend three to four hours a day writing my thesis. In between, I walk, exercise, and paint. I’ve been painting since I was a little kid and mostly paint abstract paintings, but I scour Pinterest for inspiration and new styles. Recently, I bought some new watercolours, so I’m excited to try out watercolour painting.’
‘In many ways, art is a constant factor in my life. I come from Germany but I grew up living in five different countries because of my dad’s work. Moving from one country to another has shaped me and it’s been an incredible experience to witness all these different cultures. Moving around also meant that I kind of grew up without a home - this sounds more dramatic than it is - but what I mean to say is that art - painting, enjoying art and studying art - has been the one thing that never changed.’
'It’s been a wild ride at times'
‘So for me, the BA in Arts, Media and Society was a perfect fit. The programme is very interdisciplinary. It centres around art history and visual art, but it intersects with different cultural and societal issues. We examine how current affairs are visualised in arts and media. Art can create communities and is also a way of expressing shared sentiments. It’s quite a small programme, and we were actually the first batch of students, so it’s been a wild ride at times. But it has been great fun all along.’
Selfies at the art museum
‘I’m writing my thesis on how the digital world is changing museums: my focus is on how Instagram is changing the way people interact with art and how they experience art in the museum. These days, many people photograph themselves when they visit museums. Who hasn’t seen a selfie in front of a painting in a famous museum on Instagram? Cultural institutions, art museums in particular, sometimes fear that such practices distract from interpreting the actual meaning of the artwork. But that’s a faulty assumption, as it stems from the idea that “art speaks for itself” and the museum merely communicates what is important about an artwork from their institutional perspective.’
‘My thesis argues that the ubiquity of sharing art experiences on social media, definitely shows a new way for visitors to derive meaning from art. In particular, I researched the artwork Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales. I collected more than 500 Instagram photos of the work taken by museum visitors and looked at what they posted, to see if I could detect common themes or patterns: for example by looking at what kind of comments and captions they would put underneath their posts. I reached out to 50 users and did interviews with 18 of them. I asked them how they interacted with the artwork, what they thought about it, but also: why did they take a picture of themselves with the artwork, instead of a picture of just the artwork? I can imagine it’s slightly awkward to be confronted with that question, so I was really surprised that so many people agreed to participate.’
‘Since the corona crisis, people are turning to culture more than ever’
‘When I started my bachelor’s, I expected to learn more about art, but I never expected to be doing this kind of research. But, more importantly, this programme taught me how relevant art is in our society. For example, since the corona crisis, people are turning to culture more than ever. What do you do when you’re stuck at home? People listen to music, pick up a book, start a new hobby and watch films. It just goes to show how important culture is in our daily lives.’
‘I’m not sure what the future holds for me. For now, I am planning to do a research master’s in contemporary arts and culture. I do know that I want to delve deeper into the world of art history and keep exploring the way art history intersects with other fields, such as sociology, philosophy, or media studies - you name it. There is so much more to discover!’
Text: Ifang Bremer
The Humanities at Home series is the temporary replacement for Humans of Humanities. We will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members of students, every other week. What are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.