Our goal this year … to bring you a fuller picture of who we are, what happens in our department and what our students and faculty are up to. To begin what we hope is a more consistent and informative blog, we’re starting by trying to give you snapshots of what happens in between academic years. Summer holds lot of opportunities for faculty members and students alike, and the spectrum of activity is certainly broad, but we’ll be posting some highlights of what a few art department folk were up to.
First up – the newest faculty member of our department as Assistant Professor of Art History, Matthew Milliner. We are thrilled to have Professor Milliner onboard and already know that great things are going to come from his being here. Professor Milliner has written a few words to describe his time leading up to jumping into teaching here in the Art Department …
I’m used to spending summers researching at a monastery in Greece, but this summer was different – packed with dissertation completion and moving (two activities that take much more energy than I had anticipated). But I did manage to squeeze in a conference paper, some blogging on the state of the arts, and I completed an essay on the Brancacci Chapel to be included in a forthcoming book. In the essay I explored how what has been called academia’s “religious turn” has affected art history, and how the famous chapel’s frescoes – intended to motivate philanthropy to the surrounding community – may have fascinating overlap with Professor Samuelson’s work in community art. Upon arrival, after setting up Wheaton’s (first?) icon corner in my office with Studio Associate Mark Epler’s generous help, I was delighted to read a candid confession and a clear commitment from the top. “The arts,” President Ryken explained, “should never be merely an afterthought for Christian colleges and universities, as they often (usually?) have been.”
President Ryken’s convocation address headlined with the arts as well – he seems to have kicked off the academic year by punting to Adams Hall! Ryken explained how architecture and painting (as well as literature and science) are eternal activities, to be engaged in forever – a rather robust warrant for the liberal arts, which frequently seem to languish in a perpetual crisis of purpose. This refreshing opening to the academic year gave me the pleasure of being able to start my first class on Modern Art by picking up where chapel left off. Presidential support like this is quite encouraging, and fortunately not entirely unprecedented.
I’m excited to be teaching Art 310, a new course simply entitled “Art History” (which goes from Paleolithic Art to c. 1800), as well as Art 368, the more established course on Modern Art (c. 1800 to the present). Together both courses span the entire history of art with reasonable depth, and both courses are open to non-majors. This means I’ve gone from very specialized research in Byzantine art to teaching Chauvet (c. 30,000BC) and Chardin (c. 1730AD) on the same day – but because of the students, it’s been a thrill! The splash made by Cave of Forgotten Dreams this summer means it’s a great time to be discussing Paleolithic art. When it comes to human civilization, art historians are first on the scene, literally unearthing incontrovertible evidence for human uniqueness. And regarding the era of Chardin, there has been strong scholarly push-back in 18th century art history, as scholars successfully show that French art in the time of the philosophes was not proto-secular, but remained profoundly religious. Nineteenth century art history, as evidenced by these books or this conference, is seeing religious elements emphasized as well. Not exactly an unexciting time to be studying art history!