I spent the last five years in lecture halls, teaching art history survey courses to undergraduates and, until a few months ago, I thought that 2011-2012 would be no different. Recently, I left the classroom and joined the Publishing and Media team at the IMA as their Kress Interpretive Fellow. In this new post, I will be translating the skills I honed as an instructor to suit the needs of the museum’s visitors.
Many of the courses I taught were part of the universities’ core curricula, which means that my students came from various academic backgrounds and typically enrolled in the class to fulfill a degree requirement. Some of my students had never even visited an art museum! An exciting challenge was to deliver the course material in new, engaging ways. My lectures quickly became multimedia presentations that employed devices like film clips, music, and the internet to introduce key art historical concepts and to illustrate techniques. The opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) provides a nice entrée into a discussion of Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830) exemplifies certain characteristics of Romanticism, a short scene from The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) demonstrates Michelangelo’s transfer of cartoons onto the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and so on. Similarly, one of my assignments at the IMA will be to expand understanding of the scholarly information offered in our digitized publications by conceiving of complementary text, interactive demonstrations, and audio-visual material. This online content will be accessible to a broader audience.
Teaching also allowed me to move beyond my primary area of study – nineteenth-century Danish portraiture – and become a generalist. Conversance in other periods and regions of art historical research will serve me well at the IMA, since the museum’s collection is comprehensive in scope. For another project, I will develop thematic connections between pieces in different galleries. Viewers will recognize that shared artistic impulses yield different results depending on the historical and cultural milieus that informed the works’ production. For example, Xia Gui’s Fishing Village in Twilight Glow (mid-1200s) and John Constable’s The Cornfield (ca. 1816) reflect the artists’ attachment to their home regions. Xia Gui, a Chinese painter of the Southern Song Academy, probably drew inspiration from the landscape of Hangzhou (then capital of China). Local scenery interested the British painter Constable, too. The Cornfield depicts a spot situated between East Bergholt and Deadham in his native county of Suffolk. In Constable’s choice of subject matter, he exhibited the nationalistic sentiments shared by many artists following the Napoleonic Wars. However, in its plein air execution, this preparatory oil sketch signals the emergence of an international artistic method, inspired by the studies of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) and Thomas Jones (1742-1803), and practiced by contemporaries like C. W. Eckersberg (1783-1853) and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875). In contrast, Xia Gui’s approach evokes Chinese artistic tradition in order to convey his allegiance.
Over the course of the next year, I look forward to exploring these two works further, along with many others in the museum’s rich collection, and to developing pedagogical strategies that will best captivate visitors to the IMA’s website.