This guest post from Adelia Humme ’15 summarizes her experience with the University Scholars art exploration seminar this past fall. You can find more of Adelia’s writing on The English Aggie, the blog of A&M’s English department. http://englishaggie.blogspot.com/.
This semester, the University Scholars program underwent a change in the structure of its weekly seminar courses. The seminars introduced the “Exploration” lecture series, inviting A&M professors to each present one lesson to the groups of Scholars. The Art class, composed of Adelia Humme ’15, Ryan Trantham ’15, Adri Galvan ’16, and Aaron Griffin ’16, benefitted from the visits of Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Mircrobiology; Dr. Jill Zarestky, who teaches in both the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development; and Dr. Vatche Tchakerian, a professor of Geography and Geology & Geophysics. From Dr. Scholthof, the class learned that Beatrice Potter, beloved children’s author best known for creating the character of Peter Rabbit, was an expert botanist skilled in highly accurate illustrations of flora. Dr. Zarestky, who in previous years has led a freshman seminar course about using math in arts and crafts, provided supplies for a brief lesson in knitting, which the Scholars agreed was an addicting yet soothing activity. Demonstrating how to examine the depictions of geology in landscape painting, Dr. Tchakerian explained his fascination with identifying specific rock types and structures in art.
In between professor-led sessions, the Scholars investigated other topics, such as Caldecott Award winners, and engaged our persistence and creativity to carve pumpkins for a Halloween celebration. Over the course of the semester, the class visited two on-campus art galleries, beginning with the Wright Gallery in Langford Architecture Center. Here we viewed the mandalas – circular religious symbols – created out of brightly colored plastic bags by Virginia Fleck as a commentary on consumerism and our society’s obsession with Hollywood culture. A later visit to the Forsyth Galleries introduced us to the MSC’s portraiture collection.
During our discussions, we debated what art is. While some Scholars felt that art required an emotional response in the viewer, others thought that art was a piece intentionally created for the purpose of conveying the artist’s message. One idea proposed was that art is the process through which media are transformed. For the first week’s written reflection, a weekly assignment that allowed the Scholars to respond to the topics presented in class, each of us had to compose a personal definition of art. Confronted with controversial examples, such as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” a urinal turned on its side, we had to consider whether art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, a concept that led us to conclude that art often has a social component, a public “approval rating” that increases the value of certain works.
Arguably the best outcome of this course is that, thanks to the array of perspectives provided by professors from STEM fields and our own diverse areas of study, we have learned that art is not limited to the humanities. Discovering how to apply this subject in new ways allows us to imagine how else we might cross the normally intimidating boundaries between academic fields and become more willing to dabble outside of our areas of expertise.
Enriching programs like University Scholars would not be possible without the guidance of Program Coordinator Jamaica Pouncy, the tireless support of our faculty, and the generous contributions the Association of Former Students.