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Midterm Season as Artworks from History

by Tara Allen Flanagan

Ah, autumn. The season of crunchy red and orange leaves, wood burning stoves, and hot beverages that may or may not include some pumpkin-related flavouring. One day, when I am old and grey, perhaps I will finally be able to disassociate this atmospheric season from the panic-inducing stress of midterms and final papers. On this blessed day, I will sit in my lakeside retirement home with my fellow elders. I will sip my tea and fondly reminisce for those days in university, those days where I was young and fit and could probably climb a tall tree if I tried.

This blog post serves not only as entertainment for my fellow McGill students, but as a reminder for future me that university life is not as fair as my nostalgia-fueled old lady brain remembers it as. I have compiled a collection of artworks that I believe represent the emotions expressed and situations found in by a student during midterm season, and present them here to the world. Let us never forget the tears shed on the front steps of the Arts building on a drizzly October afternoon.

Carravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, 1601

Or Desperate Students Discover that their Classmate Did the Assigned Readings and Uploaded their Notes Online

We’ve all been there. It’s midnight and you have a test tomorrow, and all those readings that you said you should get done soon never got done because you were too busy trying not to think about doing them. Or maybe you were too busy having a social life, which is a thing I have heard some students have. You check the class Facebook group, refreshing it for the umpteenth time. You hope to see a funny meme, or maybe a fellow classmate wallowing in despair to appear relatable. You notice that someone has uploaded a well-formatted document containing all of their notes, and the notes they took on the class’ assigned readings. The likes pile on to the picture. Tears form in your eyes. A savior has arisen amongst swarms of unworthy men, and we all flank to his sides. Just like the men in Caravaggio’s painting, who are surprised and delighted to see Christ revealing himself to them after his resurrection, you jump up from your computer screen and rejoice. The grey walls of McLennan echo your cheers, only to swallow them in their brutalist abyss.

Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

Or Lone Male Looks Down at McGill’s Downtown Campus after Exiting a Gruelling Three Hour Exam in the Gymnasium

Your exam ends before you could review your answers. You are herded out of the Currie Gymnasium’s dull hallways, the flickering lights amplifying your pounding headache. Your fingers are stuck in a perfect pantomime of a hand holding a pencil for dear life. You reach the outside world, only to find that darkness has befallen Montreal and your entire day has passed. As you begin your trek back down towards campus, you notice a solitary figure standing some ways ahead. He is still as he watches over the hordes of people streaming down the hill. Like Friedrich’s Wanderer, this figure has climbed to the top of a mountain and now observes with awe the sublime power of the raw world around him. You glance down to his hands, and notice that his fingers are still bent, like yours. He wears the sweater of his high school graduating class of 2017. He is a survivor, you think, a brave soul who made it out of his first midterm at McGill alive. A single tear rolls down your check, as you salute the figure before you. He is no longer a boy, but a man.

Francisco de Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son, 1819-1823

Or Student Who Should Have Studied Harder in the Process of Being Literally Eaten by their Exam

You sit down in the hard-plastic seat of your lecture hall. The slightly smelly and off-putting brown wallpaper that usually mildly disgusts you now seems to be bearing down on you. Your seatmate pulls out a box of tissues. Someone behind you sniffles. Are they crying, or are they sick? It is impossible to know the truth. Your professor calls for silence and their dutiful TA’s begin to hand out the exams and exam booklets. Your hands begin to shake, and your mind races over the last-minute study guide you pieced together at 4am. You receive your test booklet and fill out your name with the calligraphy skills of a toddler. You receive the exam paper and are told to keep it upside down until the teacher says everyone can begin. A bead of sweat forms on your brow. The teacher smirks. You forget how to breathe. The person behind you sneezes on your hair. The teacher calls for the exam to begin. You scan the first page. Then, like Zeus being devoured by Saturn, you are completely and annihilated by the contents of the exam. If you have studied harder, maybe you would have evolved into a powerful being that had the means to usurp your exam and emerge victorious. Instead, like a literal baby, you are eaten by a force that seeks to destroy you. Unlike Zeus, a literal baby, you do not get regurgitated alongside your other baby siblings and go on to murder your father and rule the skies. The cold, grey walls of McLennan laugh at your suffering.

There you have it, fellow students and future self. To forget the pain of midterms at McGill is to ignore an entire facet of art historical study that revolves around looking for analogies in art to your own, sad life. May you never find yourself suffering like baby Zeus, and instead devour your enemies like Saturn. 

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