Lesley Shipley, Randolph College – Contemporary Art Reactions
How do we interact with art?
Lesley Shipley, assistant professor of art history at Randolph College, explores how one protestor answered this question.
My research and teaching interests are in modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on identity, feminism, activism, and abstraction in art since 1960. Currently, I am completing an article that examines the intersection of ethics and aesthetics in two installations by the contemporary Colombian artist Doris Salcedo. I’m also finalizing a paper on a series of reliefs by the American artist Lee Bontecou. I have presented my research at the Feminist Art History Conference, the Annual Conference of the College Art Association, the Asians in the Americas Conference, and the Association of Art Historians Annual Conference in Norwich, England.
At Randolph, I teach 19th-century European Art, Modern European Art, American Art and Architecture, and the second half of the survey of Western Art. Special topics that I plan to teach include “Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Art”, “Art and Activism since 1960,” and “African American Art from Colonialism to the Present”.
I try to make the course material relevant to students and encourage them to develop their own perspectives on the subjects we investigate together. My approach to teaching stems from my belief in the power of students’ voices to co-construct the learning experience within the college classroom. This commitment to integrating student voice in the classroom closely aligns with my scholarly interests in issues of identity. I also have a graduate degree in fine arts and this training has furthered my commitment to keeping the work of art central to the study of art history. All of my courses take advantage of the resources at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College. The Maier’s outstanding collection and exhibitions make Randolph College an exceptional institution at which to study (and to teach!) the history of art.
When students complete my courses, I hope they are more confident in their abilities to ask important questions that are meaningful to them, to think and read critically and carefully, and to listen and look with a more open mind than when they arrived. These skills are relevant to all of the disciplines that they encounter in a liberal arts education and support a life-long love of learning. When I’m not teaching or writing, I enjoy painting and drawing, running, reading the New Yorker and cookbooks, traveling, and spending time with my family.
Contemporary Art Reactions
How can artists contribute to public discourse?
I am interested in how the art of our time often asks us to sit with ambiguity and vulnerability. While civil conversation among opposing groups sometimes feels impossible, contemporary artists use their work to create spaces for their viewers to engage with challenging topics without requiring them to take sides right away or immediately respond to questions posed.
A powerful example of an artistic encounter with vulnerability occurred at the opening of the 2017 Whitney biennial, when the African American artist Parker Bright performed an act of protest in front of Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket (2016). Schutz, who is white, had based her painting on a photograph of the mutilated body of the fourteen year-old African American boy Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955. In a series of peaceful actions within the gallery, Bright sought to challenge what he perceived to be the appropriation of Black trauma in Schutz’s painting. Standing approximately four feet in front of Open Casket with his back to the audience and wearing a shirt that read “BLACK DEATH SPECTACLE,” Bright activated the museum environment by partially obstructing the viewer’s gaze with his own living body. He then turned to talk with museum visitors about the painting and their responses to it.
Through Bright’s intervention, the art museum was transformed from a place for aesthetic contemplation to a space where vulnerability, resistance, and public dialogue could coexist. While contemporary art may not transform public policy overnight, it can make room for challenging conversations to occur within the public sphere.
The Local Art of Larry Bassett
I decided early in my life to try to match my life with my values. One of the first issues I faced in my
young adult life was Vietnam. If I was drafted was I going to go to war and kill other human beings. It
seemed obvious to me at the young age of 20 that I was not going to be a warrior. I was not drafted in
the 1960s because I was first a student and then a father. Because I was not drafted I did not have to
decide if I was going to Canada or prison. As a human service worker I experienced the lives of people
living in poverty in a Pontiac Michigan housing project. As a young person just out of college I
experienced the killing of four Kent State students on May 4, 1970 by the Ohio National Guard. By the
end of the 1970s I had decided that I could not in good conscience continue to pay my federal income
taxes when so much of those taxes went to pay for past, current and future wars. If I would refuse to
fight in a war as a conscientious objector how could I pay for someone else to fight and kill and be
killed? Rather than pay federal income taxes for war, I contributed the money I refuse to pay in Federal
taxes to meet human needs. This I do openly as an act of civil disobedience.
When I moved to Lynchburg with my family 14 years ago we moved into Riverviews Artspace, a new
community dedicated to the renovation of downtown Lynchburg by providing affordable housing as well
as a venue for artistic presentations. Although I am not an artist, my sister was an artist and my father
realized a lifetime dream of doing watercolor art after he moved into a assisted living facility in Michigan
when he was 90. I started buying local art at the annual Ann Arbor Art Festival in the 1960s. When I
found myself at Riverviews Artspace surrounded by art and artists, I felt quite at home. A small group of
us who lived and worked here got together to be a part of the First Fridays movement in Lynchburg and
to begin the Riverviews arts organization. And due to the work of many many people things just have
really taken off in the past 14 years at the corner of Jefferson and Ninth Streets.
My values have led me to refuse to pay for war, redirecting my federal income taxes to work for peace
and justice and to meet many human needs. My values have led me to support local arts in the best way
that I know how, by directly supporting local artists. One of the ways we express our values is by how we
use our resources. I choose to resist paying for a war paying instead to meet human needs. I value
artistic expression and have chosen to support many local artists. I love being surrounded by local art
that I have selected piece by piece over the years. My loft at Riverviews Artspace is filled with local art
both in my home and in the spacious hallways. My goal has always been to make it possible for more
people to see my local art collection and this exhibit in the Craddock Terry gallery in the building that I
love is an incredible realization of that goal.
So this is a lot of information about me. But I want to share the spotlight with as many of the local artists
as I can. I have bought a lot of my art at Riverviews and the Academy. But I have also bought quite a bit
from the artist directly. I know almost every artist personally and that is a wonderful thing. I hope the
fact that you have come to this exhibit and are reading this will help you to decide to buy that next piece
of local art that you see and love. Because that is exactly what I have done!