The Art History Newsletter

College Art Association Conference: Mid-conference report

by | 24 February 2012 | CAA2012, Career, Conferences, Photography, Teaching, Theory

The Los Angeles Convention Center is massive. Despite its girth, the College Art Association 2012 Conference occupies about one third of the center. There is no shortage of simultaneous interesting sessions, forcing attendees to choose carefully.

The sessions I’ve visited thus far have been largely interesting, with some presenters generating more enthusiasm than others. “Deconstructing Costume Histories: Rereading Identities in Fashion Collections and Exhibitions” was highly informative, offering new research from several experts from academia and museums. “Who Do We Teach: Challenges and Strategies in Recognizing Our Students, and Developing and Supporting Curriculum for Multiple Constituencies” offered some interesting perspective on pedagogy, but seemed to not line up well with the expectations produced by the title. Focus was placed not on who students are, but on how certain professors deal with their own expectations of students. Several interesting and relevant questions were produced by audience members regarding how instructors and professors might apply the theories presented to their own practice. The responses seemed highly personal and largely unsatisfying for the audience, suggesting the session successfully identified an area of need, but failed to adequately address that need.

“The Other Histories of Photography: The First One Hundred Years” was comprised of five papers exploring the margins of the field, often with surprising results. In particular Melody D. Davis’ exploration of the positions and operations of stereography in 19th century culture, and 20th century historiography, was both enlightening and instructive. Davis’ enthusiasm and expertise effectively brought her subject to life, illustrating it’s history and relevance.  “Technology in the Art History Classroom: A Hands-On Learning Workshop” was an informative workshop offering participant the opportunity to learn briefly about four web-based pedagogical tools, followed by a more in-depth exploration of one particular tool of the participant’s choice. I appreciated the practical applications and solutions offered which helped to concretize and contextualize much of the more theoretical content of the conference.

On that theoretical note, “The Theoretical Turn”, a special session honoring the work of Rosalind Krauss, sought to elucidate Krauss’ influence on other scholars and professionals in art history. Presenters spoke about the effects that Krauss’ work has on them both personally and professionally. Yve-Alain Bois’ introduction neatly summarized the effects of Krauss’ work on his own career, and subsequent speakers elucidated their particular relationships with her work. After hearing these stories, the vast network of Krauss’ influence began to crystallize more clearly, and I appreciated hearing how various scholars have uniquely incorporated her work into their own practice.

On a practical note, the Los Angeles Convention Center could be much more visitor friendly. The lack of food options is surprising, and the existing options are reminiscent of the food one typically finds at a zoo. A few of the temporary walls dividing larger rooms have been found to be insufficient at isolating noise from neighboring sessions. Most of the sessions I visited were not more that half full, implying that smaller rooms would have been more practical and might have fostered greater discussion and debate. Of course, this may be a reflection of my own interests and choices of sessions.