Story posted September 14, 2007
Its inauguration is the catalyst for Visual Culture in the 21st Century, a yearlong, faculty-driven exploration of visual culture that reaches out from the Museum and spreads to classrooms, stages, and concert halls across campus.
Dozens of public talks and performances have been scheduled that explore the vitality and importance of the visual arts through lenses as diverse as gender, politics, memory, architecture and spirituality. Among the speakers invited to campus are scholars and artists of national and international reputation—Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks; Peter Eisenman, architect of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial; Ellen Miles, curator of the National Portrait Gallery.
This concentrated dialogue between art and life is embedded in challenging ways throughout the curriculum as well: Bowdoin faculty from anthropologists to artists, literary scholars to sociologists, are offering cross-disciplinary courses, inviting guest presenters to classes, and mounting exhibitions and performances tied to their courses. Several of these classes are based in the Museum itself, meeting in the new, Zuckert Seminar Room—a technically advanced classroom where students can get up-close with real works of art related to their studies.
"We wanted to welcome back the Museum with a visible statement about its role in the campus and its centrality to our academic mission," notes Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "It is an extraordinary academic resource for the College and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to encourage faculty to intersect with their students, their peers and the public in new and fascinating ways."
"It really is unusual for a college museum to have a collection of such sweep," adds Associate Professor of Art History Pamela Fletcher, who is coordinating the faculty initiative. "It means that the Museum can be the heart for a visual investigation of subjects from any number of perspectives.
"The courses and events presented under the Visual Culture in the 21st Century umbrella are incredibly varied," she notes, "but there is an intellectual coherence to what's happening. Everyone is examining what it means to live in a world that is image saturated. What kind of power do images have? How do they move us, persuade us, scare us? It's not just about an aesthetic experience. Art can have implications for so many parts of our lives as human beings."
Some public talks and events are directly connected with courses, while others reflect more broadly on areas of faculty interest and expertise. The first public event, a lecture titled, "Art for War's Sake: WWI and American Visual Culture," by Wake Forest art professor David Lubin, will take place Thursday, September 27, 2007. Lubin will explore how artists and other producers of visual culture intervened in the discourse of World War I before entrance and after. The lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center, Beam Classroom. Click here for a list of all of the fall's public events.
Among curricular activities:
Associate Professor of Art History Linda Docherty took advantage of the Visual Culture initiative to develop a new course this fall, "Art and Life." The seminar challenges students to "explore the question of how art helps to shape a culture," she says. "I want to help students examine the process of seeing our life through art, and in some cases, the act of seeing itself." Working with objects from the Museum's collections of American prints, drawing and photographs, students will collectively curate an exhibition, complete with catalog entries and labels.
In the spring, a cluster of courses and public lectures connecting the visual arts and sociology will address ways in which art influences social change. Courses include: "Constructions of the Body," taught by Sociology Professor Susan Bell; "Photo Seminar," taught by Assistant Professor of Art Michael Kolster; and "Public Art," taught by Art Professor Mark Wethli. "We wanted to explore ways in which increasing numbers of artists and art-activists are turning to the social sphere as both the setting and the medium for their work," notes Susan Bell. "Conversely, social scientists are turning to the human body and art works as documents of human experience."
Archaeologists Susan Kaplan (Arctic Studies Director) and James Higginbotham (Associate Professor of Classics) will team up this spring to teach a new course, "Who Owns the Past? The Roles of Museums in Preserving and Presenting Culture." This course examines the ethical and legal obligations of museums in handling certain objects and texts with sacred origins or with questionable histories of ownership. It also will include a series of international guest speakers, including archaeologists, litigators, tribal representatives and curators.
Assistant Professor of Art Stephen Perkinson, Bowdoin's expert on Medieval and Renaissance art, says that "teaching from original artworks opens up a world of exciting opportunities. There are details that reproductions just can't capture, and a class can be driven by the students' own observations." The Visual Culture initiative helped him develop a new seminar, "The Early Modern Printed Image," which actually meets in the Museum's new, dedicated classroom. It gives students changing weekly encounters with a wide range of fine prints from the 15th through 17th centuries. In addition to up-close study of works from the Bowdoin Museum of Art, students will visit collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and try their own hand at print-making.
"The Visual Culture initiative merely gives a larger platform for an already rich academic program of arts exploration at Bowdoin," notes Dean Judd. "It's a way for faculty in many disciplines to make connections they wouldn't necessarily make, and to provide an impetus for exploring new ideas. We also want to create a window on Bowdoin's intellectual community for people in midcoast Maine and around the country. It's important for our students to see their professors interacting with scholars from different institutions—and for outside scholars and artists to experience firsthand the extraordinary vibrancy of the Bowdoin campus."