The Art History Newsletter

Flying Solo: The Opportunities and Challenges Presented to the Solitary Art Historian in a Small College

by | 1 March 2012 | CAA2012, Career, Conferences, Teaching

This stimulating panel was presented at CAA and chaired by Laura J. Crary of Presbyterian College and William Ganis of Wells College. Three well-crafted papers addressed aspects of teaching art history at a college with no art history department per se, but in which art history is an important component of education. Lisa DeBoer of Westmont College presented her paper “Curricular and Pedagogical Strategies for Solo Flyers in Studio Departments” which explored potential advantages and problems of more closely aligning art history with studio art instruction. Taking as her point of departure the James Elkins article “Parallel Art History/Studio Program” (Art Journal, Vol. 54,  Fall 1995), DeBoer raised the possibility of challenging the severe academic split between the two types of instruction, suggesting there are potential benefits of greater crossover between studio and art history departments.

In “No Art Historian Is an Island” presented by Amy Von Lintel of West Texas A&M University, the hybrid nature of art history as a discipline was elegantly juxtaposed to what the author referred to as the “realities of the many headed hydra”, referring to the diversity of responsibilities one takes on as an art historian in a small department. One particularly prescient strategy presented by Von Lintel was to create a more interdisciplinary experience for her students through collaborative teaching. By inviting carefully selected guest lecturers from other departments at her university to her classes, Von Lintel not only vastly expands the knowledge base of her classroom, she employs a pedagogical strategy which reinforces the value of deep learning and fosterers greater student focus. Furthermore, her collaboration with the other faculty at her college undoubtedly serves as a model for successful collaboration and specialization for her students, stressing the nature of scholarship as a shared enterprise.

The third and final paper was presented by Gregory Gilbert of Knox College and titled “The Solitary Art Historian in a Liberal Arts College: Strategies for Aligning Faculty and Student Research”. After some years of struggling to find time for his scholarly duties beyond the classroom, Gilbert decided to more explicitly integrate his ongoing scholarly work into his courses. Rather than employing the common strategy of teaching his dissertation, Gilbert instead began to use his courses to both share and expand his research area through the vehicle of his coursework with students. He was able to do this by proposing seminar themes, term paper topics, and student research areas more closely related to his area of focus. In doing so Gilbert found that he was able to more effectively guide students at all areas of research and course projects.

Having some background in medical academic publishing, I was reminded of the ubiquitous strategy of collaborative research and publication in the medical fields, where research duties are divided according to rank and/or specialty and credit is shared among several authors. Faculty at teaching hospitals or universities publish collaborative work with their advanced students, providing clear benefits for both parties. Simultaneously hearing Gilbert’s strategies and recalling my experience left me wondering why art historical publication typically continues to be such a solitary enterprise.

The theme that clearly united all of these papers was collaboration. The panel emphasized how art history faculty can improve their efficacy through collaboration with one another and faculty from other departments. Most importantly this panel stressed how working with students can be viewed as collaboration, albeit heavily guided by the instructor. By viewing teaching as essentially collaborative, faculty can foster a greater sense of ownership and responsibility over art history and create more learner-centered environments where students can more effectively integrate art history into their own sense of self.