Thai Tran ’19: My Experience as a Collections Intern

Categorizing items and managing databases are things I had been doing extensively prior to being an intern at the Bates Museum of Art, and an opportunity to apply these skills to art was something I could not let pass. As a result, I applied for an internship for the Collections Management under the Bates Museum of Art, which focuses on the documenting of artworks. The work included taking professional-quality images and giving a brief yet comprehensive description of each work, along with information such as date of creation, dimensions, conservation condition, and valuation. Data entries would then be created and organized, so that the Museum’s artwork database may be accessible to the public. This necessitate that the information in each date entry is accurate, and that the entry itself is easy to navigate. To closely examine, to review, and then re-review, was what I had to do. It taught me to be careful and precise, something that I had not been used to. As a result, I developed a better sense of responsibility and discipline, and an overall more professional attitude towards the job.


As my job was to manage an image database, I was given access to a wealth of images of artworks in various forms, including ceramics, paintings, and photography. Because my background was in photography, I soon notice the presentation of artworks in the images, including the use of angles, lighting, and backgrounds. As time went on, I found myself looking beyond the technicalities. I was scrutinizing the artworks themselves, picking out details that worked well with the overall composition. Doing so taught me much about art, and as my knowledge grew, my own artworks also benefited. Ideas of color combinations, compositions, and of lines and spaces, some of which were alien before, gradually became easier to grasp. The details that I noticed were now artistic elements I could employ. When I realized this growth was largely thanks to the images I was given to work with, the sense of reward was so very profound.


Another defining experience for me was the handling and inspection of artworks. Before, my access to artworks had been limited to class meetings, internet articles and curated exhibitions. Everything was carefully selected, and as a result, a sense of personality and intimacy was lost. As a result, I saw what I knew as art to be transcendent yet distant. This was especially true for me in photography: no matter how beautiful an image was, the objects appeared detached, the compositions rigid and formulated, and the ideas that tied everything together felt like something created to be studied, rather than something born out of love. However, being able to hold artworks in my hands changed that. I could feel the amount of care and love that went into each and every detail. Every now and then I noticed something relatable, be it an oversight or a deliberate decision. The experience was personal. It felt real. Most of all, It changed the way I view and love art.


Overall, the internship was very rewarding. After a semester of working for the Museum, I learned much about the demands and technicalities of the job, and gained a deeper understanding of art. This experience gave me a sense of what to expect in a museum-related career, and above all, it taught me to approach the creation and appreciation of art in a different way.


Thai Tran, ‘19

Studio Art Major