Breaking in and Breaking OUT
Knox's art and art history programs have emerged from their most intensive period of change in the last 25 years, reaffirming their status as core components of Knox's liberal arts curriculum, better preparing their students to enter the world as artists and art historians, and adding vitality to Knox's cultural community. In recent years, these programs have expanded their offerings beyond the boundaries of Knox's traditional campus and curriculum. Before art and art history could break out of the classroom, they had to break in.
A Brief History
By Peter Bailley '74
Knox's first catalog, in 1848, stated that "instruction may be received by all who desire it in French, music, and drawing." By "all" Knox meant women, as the 1850 catalog placed art among "the elegant and ornamental branches of Female Education." Art history does not enter the formal curriculum until 1925, and the major in "applied art and art history" came in 1936. Starting in the late 1930s, visiting artists were dispatched by the Carnegie Corporation to strengthen small college art programs-famed artist George Rickey was selected to teach at Knox in 1940-41. Even into the 1950s, "studio art" was not part of Knox's official language. The 1951 catalog speaks of "art laboratories," as the department shared space in Alumni Hall with theatre and psychology-two other relative newcomers to the liberal arts curriculum.
Permanent, dedicated studio and gallery facilities were established in 1964, with the construction of the Ford Center for the Fine Arts. Since then Knox has had, in total, more than two dozen faculty and hundreds of majors in art and art history. Studio art and art
history had become fixtures of the curriculum.
Art at Knox
By Mark Holmes, Assistant Professor of Art
As the number of art majors has grown in the last five years, the art department set out to re-evaluate its goals and strategies. We built on past successes and expanded the department's reach with new programs, curriculum, resources, and faculty. As we worked, we would return often to two questions that ultimately directed our progress: "How do art students benefit by an education that enacts the distinct goals and values of the liberal arts?" and "What can art contribute to Knox and to a liberal arts education?"
We first acknowledged what we're not-an art school armed with exotic technologies, complex facilities, and large faculties teaching specialized courses. A Knox studio art major, like most Knox majors, consists of one-third of the classes students take at Knox (much less than art schools), but in spite of these asymmetries, each year our majors apply successfully to the most competitive graduate programs. Our students succeed because their art education is enhanced specifically by the advantages of a Knox education.
A Knox education values precise articulation of complex ideas. Knox art students broadly explore cultural, scientific, and intellectual connections in their work. Recent students have focused their work on issues arising from interests in philosophy, gender theory, physics, ecology, media studies and visual culture theory, literary theory, and computer science. Knox's rich intellectual diversity stimulates both critical and creative reactions in our students and is a key nutrient to their success. Art students also learn to think and speak clearly about their work.
Our second question inverts the first. That art is important is not something most of us would question; it challenges, expands, and enriches our community. But these are ancillary advantages that don't quite answer the real question-what makes art and art history necessary to a Knox education? Art courses explore the complex relationship between creative authorship and political, social, intellectual, aesthetic, and economic contexts. They also equip our students to become more astute, responsible purveyors and consumers of visual culture and media. Learning about art encourages the sustained curiosities of active, expansive thinkers and lifelong learners. Creative study can help students become bolder innovators and problem solvers.
But there is more: we all hope that our students become keen observers and thoughtful inquirers, that they can dissect complex problems, that they can examine and expose false assumptions. We give them the tools to illuminate and investigate unexamined places, histories, and systems. These goals largely define the agenda of liberal education, and, as such, we prepare students to take the world apart. But an education is also about the future, and through their actions or inactions, our students will shape and build the future-put it together. Studying and making art exercises and disciplines the creative capacities of synthesis and invention that turn thought to action.
Art History at Knox
By Gregory Gilbert, Associate Professor & Director of the Art History Program
With more than 60 majors since 1998-when I was hired as Knox's first full-time art history professor-art history is one of the most interdisciplinary subjects taught at Knox, and I have sought to teach art history as a model of the College's commitment to integrated studies. Works of art are examined in the context of historical, economic, and philosophical developments, and art history courses frequently utilize theoretical perspectives drawn from the fields of linguistics, psychology, and gender studies. Rather than seeing history as merely being documented in the visual arts, art history reveals the powerful, indispensable role visual culture has played in the construction and circulation of ideas and ideologies within different socio-historical periods.
Art history at Knox also has kept abreast of current methodological trends in the field and is one of the few undergraduate programs in the country offering a course in Visual Culture Theory. The interdisciplinary thrust of art history has been reflected in a variety of senior thesis and Honors projects, which have explored such diverse topics as the influence of jazz on Mondrian's painting and the relation of Abstract Expressionism to film noir. The intellectual ambition of Knox art history majors has resulted in our alumni being accepted to a number of prestigious graduate programs.
Knox's tradition of experiential learning has supported an innovative pre-professional mentoring program focusing on museum studies. To date, a large number of art history majors have obtained competitive national internships at such major institutions as the St. Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
Even though we think of art as a largely visual medium, experiencing art extends to other senses, including our sense of our bodies in relation to the art work, according to Tony Gant and Lynette Lombard, associate professors of art, explaining why they began in 1997 taking students to experience the incomparable art resources offered in New York. "When you stand in front of an art work, it comes alive in ways you can't see in print," says Lombard, who arranged for students to study at the New York Studio School. Books and Web browsing just aren't enough, Gant says: "Every art piece is not 3 inches by 4 inches."
The Knox in New York program combines 10 weeks on campus with two weeks in New York, where Knox students attend intensive art classes at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. "There are so many museums and galleries, that even in two weeks you can't see all of them," Gant says. The extended visit provides time to study art works in depth and prepare research presentations, as well as meet with Knox alumni who are active artists in the city. And time for work. "Ten drawings a day," Lombard says.
"The students draw wherever they are. It's important that they make something when they're in New York. They are involved with making and looking and analyzing."
Gant and Lombard agree that Knox in New York has had a significant impact on individual students and the Knox art program as a whole. "I have seen students transformed by the experience of looking at a work of art in New York," Gant says. "The students come back energized and become more active in the department."
Knox Grows into the Box
By Peter Bailley '74
Standing near the corner of Kellogg and Simmons, you can see the Knox campus from the front door of The Box. You can see history there-from the framed 1909 newspaper heralding its construction, to the wood-beams that hold up the roof, to the burly floors that once held the presses of Wagoner Printing Company. Now you can see art there, too, since The Box was acquired in 2004 by Mark Holmes, assistant professor of art. Holmes' aim to bring art into the larger Galesburg community has also created new opportunities for Knox students in the arts through an experimental agreement with the College.
The number of art majors has increased by 50 percent in the past decade, and The Box has opened up new space for both their work and display. As an exhibit area, The Box's warehouse interior "gives us opportunities to do shows and installations that don't fit in the Gallery" of the Ford Center for the Fine Arts, Holmes says. "During Knox's Open Studio term, the whole class can hang a show in the Box."
The Box also provides studio space for art department faculty members Holmes and Claire Sherman, and this term's visiting artist, Jenna Price '06. Price's fall 2009 show, held in The Box, featured several dozen bales of straw and three levels of construction-site scaffolding-an installation that would not have been possible on campus. "This is a great space-it's so malleable," Price says. "And it's really big. When I was in Philadelphia, a space this big was unheard of."
While the Box is a five-minute walk from campus "it's in the community," Holmes says. "It puts students and artists in contact with people who are not artists." The Box has hosted some Knox events, including student and faculty readings. "We want to do more shows, be welcoming to the community,"
Knox and the Figge
By Peter Bailley '74
Further from campus than The Box, closer than New York, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, has joined forces with Knox to create a new off-campus student internship in art history-a field that is drawing twice as many majors as it was 10 years ago. The link between Knox and the Figge was forged by the museum's director, Sean O'Harrow, and Knox faculty member Gregory Gilbert, associate professor and director of the program in art history. In addition to his work at Knox, Gilbert also serves as the Figge's senior curator of exhibitions and collections and director of the museum's new National Center for Midwest Art and Design.
The internship and Gilbert's new position at the Figge "give the College access and a relationship with the museum and its collection, and the museum added academic credibility and a connection with one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country," O'Harrow told a reporter for the Dispatch-Argus newspaper in the Quad Cities.
"While Knox and the Figge have different audiences, Knox's mission is education, and our mission is education," O'Harrow says. "Greg's vast experience educating undergraduates is appropriate for our audience-the general public-who are not experts on art, but are interested in explanations at the highest level."
As part of the affiliation, there are plans to organize exhibition seminars with Knox students helping to research the collection and organize exhibits. Gilbert also hopes to develop a museum studies program at the Figge specifically designed for Knox students. The program would utilize the museum as an educational venue for a wide range of disciplines including faculty and student research, lectures, literary readings, and film festivals, as well as music, dance and theatrical performances.