Sunday, September 6, 2009

A New Semester

The fall semester has just begun, hence the lack of posts the last few weeks as I got things underway with my teaching and various administrative this-and-thats. This semester, in addition to my usual Ancient-Medieval art history survey, I am teaching an upper-level seminar devoted entirely to Vincent. I have fifteen undergrads (a mix of studio art and art history students, mostly, with a psych major and anthro major for good measure) and four art history graduate students, and so far we are having a great time reading Vincent's letters and examining the phases of his artistic career. Last week we discussed his time in The Hague and focused in particular on his relationship with Sien Hoornik and his drawings of her and her family. This Wednesday we'll be in Nuenen and discussing "The Potato Eaters" in depth. Our reading list is a nifty (if I do say so myself) mix of primary sources (mostly letters), general-audience readings (eg excerpts from exhibition catalogues), and hard-core scholarly articles. The last three weeks we'll be exploring Vincent in popular culture (films, novels, children's books, advertising), but my "Sunflowers" is conspicuously absent from the syllabus. I didn't want to put students in the awkward position of critiquing their professor!

Yesterday three of the seminar students (plus one brought a friend) joined me to see "Van Gogh: Brush with Genius" at the Museum of Science of Industry in Tampa before this Imax film leaves the city on Monday. (Most of the others had to work, alas.) I saw the film back in March, as I reported here, but it was wonderful to see it again, this time with company. It's such a visual feast, and the extremely magnified details of the paintings show the texture and impasto in a way my classroom slides just cannot.

On this viewing, I found myself particularly drawn to the footage of Auvers-sur-Oise. I've now had three visits to the village, the most recent this May, and each time I find it a special and almost magical place. The film spends far more time in Auvers than in Arles and Saint-Rémy, and beautifully captures its tranquillity and serene landscape. If I ever had a financial windfall, I'd happily buy a little summer cottage there! Apparently the Swissborn filmmaker, Peter Knapp, has his own home in Auvers, which probably explains why it is given such a loving portrayal.

Seeing the movie again was an inspiring way to kick off the new semester. Between the classes, the admin work, and "Sunflowers" making its debut in October, it's going to be a very busy one!

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