Posted by: slartibartifast | April 27, 2011


It happened 35 years ago today. April 27, 1976. It happened in the classroom I had been taking an Art History Survey class for nearly two semesters already. We were two weeks away from the final exam.

As usual we were sitting in the dark and watching slides that Eugenia Lee was showing us of art, sculpture, and architecture from around the world, beginning with the cave paintings of Lascaux up to the art movements of the early 20th century. I loved the class. Eventually I made Art History my minor for my undergraduate degree.

We were viewing other slides, probably paintings by Cubist artists like Picasso.

Then I saw it. A painting by Marcel Duchamp called Nude Descending a Staircase #2.

Nude Descending a Staircase #2, Philadelphia Museum of Art

If you pay attention enough you can feel your world change in a second. It can be from an almost infinite array of sources. For me this change was Nude Descending a Staircase #2 in a dark classroom in Colorado Springs, CO, at UCCS.

As I listened to Eugenia describe the painting and what Duchamp was trying to convey to the viewer I was transfixed. The effect Duchamp was illustrating, the movement of a human body going down a staircase, as if still frames were being taken and frozen as the figure continued down, seemed magical to me.

In that instant my world expanded and encompassed new horizons and I actually looked at the world differently after that moment. As if the world around me had a new dimension to it. In fact, it did…a new dimension of aesthetic understanding and appreciation.

After class, at the end of that day, I went home and found a B&W plate of the painting in my textbook, Art Through the Ages, sixth edition (which I kept and am looking at right now), and silently stared at it for maybe 20 minutes. I could feel the painting looking at me as well.

My seeing of the world has been different ever since that day, now 35 years later. The painting, Nude Descending a Staircase #2, over those years became the Change itself; became the moment that my life and my appreciation of it changed to a new reality.

I understand that the painting is housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I intend on going to see it some day to complete that circle.


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