Trip Down Memory Lane

David Freedberg. Image courtesy:

After a very jam-packed and stimulating first day at the conference on Wednesday the 9th, I headed up to 38 West 86th Street at Columbus, to the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Material Culture. It had been several years since I had visited my graduate alma mater. While it was a bit jarring at first to walk in, and find myself initially confronted with a sea of unfamiliar faces, within a few seconds I began recognizing a few faces that immediately put me at ease. Those faces included my thesis advisor, a couple a former students from my class, another student from the class right after mine, and a dear mentor I worked with while on internship at Waddesdon Manor in England, who is now teaching at BGC. What a treat!

I was taking a break from the CAA conference, only to see yet another lecture. The sign of a true art nerd for sure! Only, this was a lecture by the renowned Columbia University art historian David Freedberg. Distinguished for his work in 17th century Dutch, Flemish, French, and Italian art, his recent work centers on the conjunction of the study of art and art history, and the history of science and the interplay of the field of the neurosciences. In particular, Professor Freedberg looks at the fields of emotions, vision, and movement as they relate to their interaction of art and the understanding of historical and theoretical ideas.

The title of his lecture, “The Materiality of the Brain and the Material of Culture,” intrigued me on multiple levels. Recently, real life and my own work are colliding in the real experience of neuroscience—a kind of life imitating art, if you will. I had never been much of a science buff in my younger years, so now I am making up for lost time. And finally, I praise BGC for treading such experimental ground—a little outside-the-box thinking!

To start off, Professor Freedberg reminds us that many of these “forward thinking” ideas that are surfacing, linking art history and neuroscience, are not necessarily new. The great predecessors like Warburg, Nussbaum, and Damasio paved the road for the contemporary collaborations taking place between art, art historical and neuroscience and psychology departments on many campuses. In particular, Damasio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain looks at the hypothesis that emotions guide behavior and decision-making, in direct opposition to Descartes’ dualist separation of mind (rationality) and body (emotion).

Professor Freedberg posits that, as we look at a painting for example, the movement of the bodies in the scene relay the passions behind the figures and the painting. Professor Freedberg considers himself a neuromaterialist, and believes that elements of a work can elicit embodied stimulation in the viewer. For instance, a delectable Netherlandish still life brimming with luscious fruit and creamy cheeses might just make you hungry. Or, when looking at Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition of c. 1435 in the Prado, the dramatic lighting and textiles, the echoing of movements of Jesus and Mary, and the anguished faces make us, the viewers, co-sufferers by default, as we regard this pain of others, and feel.

He highlighted his talk by illustrating the different parts of the brain responsible for this activity, and how his collaboration with neuroscientists have uncovered this information through such tools as fMRI scans. This is art historical research on the cutting edge!

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The Art of Staying Somewhere Very Special

Because attending huge art conference just isn’t enough art for me, I opted for a week staying in…

which, as it turns out, is about as close as you can get to an art gallery sleep-over. Welcome to my photographic essay: The Art of Staying Somewhere Very Special!

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Where It All Started…

Back in 1996 I attended my first ever art history lecture at the University of Leeds. I walked into a large lecture theatre where a dazzlingly glamorous woman stood in front of, er, this image, by Linda Benglis. She enthusiastically ushered us in, keen to get started, and, well, nothing has quite been the same since.

An hour later I bumped into a friend studying law and said “You are soooooooooooooooooo on the wrong course. The lecture I’ve just been too? Well, let me just say that EVERYTHING looks different now!”

The lecturer who had made such an impact on me? Griselda Pollock! And she is absolutely the reason I went on to do an MA and a PhD – and trust me, if I could study more I would, I’m an addict I tell you, and it’s all her fault!

OK I admit it, sometimes I do wish I could watch a chick-flick without noticing all the misogynistic undertones, but I’m eternally grateful to Griselda for making me see things so differently, so I was thrilled to run into her here at the CAA the other night. It was a great opportunity to say hello and catch her up on how my career is going.

Oh and if it doesn’t sound too stalker-ish (which clearly it does!), guess what Facebook group I joined first? I Love Grisdelda Pollock, a group set up by some of her current (and apparently equally awe-filled students). And that reminds me, I really should find out what she though of the Social Network…

(I think the photograph might be a little wine-infused but I’m nonetheless grateful to the photographer! ;-)

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Packed house at Hunter College / Times Square Gallery

Now that the conference is over processing what has transpired and the weight of some of the events is now being felt. One really wonderful event was participating in the Regional MFA Exhibition (please see Patricia Flores earlier post regarding the opening). In the expansive Hunter College / Times Square gallery space was at a premium with 20 institutions participating, and that was just concerning the artwork; the minute the reception began the gallery goers packed the space, making it an athletic feat to snake through the galleries, weave through the people and not bump into the artworks.
Patricia mentioned that the exhibition, between all of the schools, the artwork included feels very in tune with the currents of contemporary trends in New York work. I felt similarly when viewing some of the work and a comment that I overheard months before in a gallery came to mind: “it looks like MFA work.” This has passed through my mind quite a bit since first hearing it. Is there a MFA aesthetic? If so, what does it mean; a derogatory comment or some phase of artistic development that everyone goes through?” My thoughts and comments aren’t meant to be a defensive response to Patricia’s post, but a search for other people’s perspective on the MFA period of artistic development. Please discuss if you feel so inclined.

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Attend or not attend.

This conference was an eye opening experience and one that I will continually be pondering over the next months and leading up to my decision to attend Los Angeles or not. In an earlier post I defined my mission CAA as one to determine how the conference can best serve current MFA students and recent graduates (focusing on MFA because that is my perspective). Being situated close to New York gave a great advantage of being able to glimpse the conference at a calculated distance. I was able to completely geek out and attend some really great panels but also snoop around, have casual chats with folks about what they wish to get from the conference.

For most, the conference was about meeting people. Old friends, making new ones, and hopefully ones that may hire them in the near future. In these small conversations little bits of information flowed effortlessly for those who were asked, “should an MFA candidate attend the CAA conference while in her last year, months before graduation?” Yes. Do it. But these answers came with a few qualifiers. Make sure to scout the job listings early, in November, apply, and hopefully someone will bite. But most importantly, let those potential employers know that you are planning to attend CAA. Secondly, if you do attend, go to the career mentoring sessions and workshops. At these meetings you are able to bring a résumé, sample cover letter and portfolio for review from someone who has seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of them and able to give a kick in the pants to get your items in order, or reassure you that everything is looking stellar.

One kind woman give one last reminder: remember to have some fun and see what’s going on outside of the conference at museums and galleries. Take advantage of the fact you are in a great art center, whether it be this year in New York, next in Los Angeles, and after that Chicago (?).

Posted in Bloggers, CAA, Career Services | 1 Comment