Teaching Pre-Modern European Art in Context Seminar Updates

CIC’s annual Teaching Pre-Modern European Art in Context seminar took place on June 18–23, 2023, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, TN. CIC faculty members in art history, the arts, and other disciplines who incorporate art history in their courses were invited to apply over the winter to participate.

standing participants posing for group photo
Participants of the 2023 Teaching Pre-Modern European Art in Context in Memphis, Tennessee.

This year’s seminar, “Power and Absence: Connecting Renaissance Art to Diverse Audiences,” explored representations of difference in European art, ca. 1400–1700. Participants learned how to foster classroom and community dialogues that increase empathy and foster greater understanding of the historical power of art to affect different audiences in different ways. One focus was on historical depictions of men, traditionally shown in roles of power and authority, and women, conventionally assumed to be objectified and disempowered. Female artists and the barriers that have hindered their expression were also highlighted. The presence, absence, and marginalization of persons of non-European descent in Western European art were explored, as were the ways the study of historical change might suggest bridges to the present.

Victor Coonin, professor of art and art history at Rhodes College (TN), led the seminar, which also included special access to the collection of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, which is particularly rich in Kress paintings. Throughout the week, participants also heard from members of the Brooks Museum staff, including Chief Curator Rosamund Garrett, Kress Interpretive Fellow Natalie McCann, and Patricia Daigle, curator of modern and contemporary art and art of the African Diaspora who led a session on the Harmonia Rosales exhibition currently on view. Participants also toured the National Civil Rights Museum and spent an afternoon at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens for sessions focused on “When One Race Depicts Another in Historical Images” and “Teaching Race in the Renaissance” that were led by scholars from the University of Memphis (TN). As Kerry Mills, assistant professor of art at Mary Baldwin University (VA) reflected on the week, “The generative programming and discussions have certainly energized me to continue the work of diversifying my courses. Being with a group of academics and professionals with similar goals and interests was inspiring.”

CIC’s seminars on Teaching European Art in Context are made possible with the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.