Emily Goodman suggests taking an eclectic approach to art—recognize that works can range from seemingly mundane objects to a marble bust sitting in the Met.
“It’s everywhere,” said Transylvania’s new art history professor. “There’s this weird fallacy that art exists only in a museum or institution—in scrubbed-out spaces for intellectual elites.”
Goodman’s students learn that opening up to everyday interactions with their visual culture leads to revelations. She wants them to brim with their own insights, which will spark excitement that improves their work, facilitates interesting conversations and leads to greater thinking about the world around them.
This learning happens both inside and outside the classroom—sometimes in unexpected places. For instance, if students find a parody of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” hanging in a coffee shop, they’ll know that image not only comes from someplace, but it’s going somewhere—it’s not frozen in history. “To function in our culture, you need to understand how these symbols and signs work together and what they’re telling you,” Goodman said. Her receptiveness to the images that help shape us began with a general requirement art history class in high school. In fact, the way Goodman instructs students now is informed by what she learned from that class’s teacher—who also became her mentor. “The way she taught art history made it come alive,” Goodman said. Instead of first telling students what they should see in a work, that teacher asked them to just look, perhaps showing them a slide with no information beyond the title. The students pondered questions such as: what patterns are jumping out, or why does the image seem familiar? Later, for a deeper understanding of the work, they combined this initial reaction with what they had learned from studying history.
By looking into the past, art history students contextualize the present. It’s helpful to be aware of the patterns that repeat throughout history and realize that, especially in this day and age, nothing exists in a vacuum. “I like when students can see themselves as part of a larger tradition,” Goodman said.