Art Department

Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors

APRIL 10, 2007

"I proceed in the belief that however much we intellectualize, even if that motion is spontaneous, there still remains a basic level of reaction that cuts across historical, social, and other contextual boundaries."
(David Freedberg, Power of Images, p. 22)

Introduction by William Diebold, Professor of Art History:

David Freedberg is currently professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University and director of Columbia's Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America. Professor Freedberg comes to the College as a Steven Ostrow Distinguished Visitor in the Visual Arts. The Ostrow Distinguished Visitors program was established by an exceptionally generous gift to Reed from long-time friends of the College Ed and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray. The program honors Steven Ostrow, who was director of the Portland Art Museum and then chief of the prints and drawings division of the Library of Congress, as a tribute to his career and out of respect for his advisory role in the formulation of the Cooley-Gray gift to Reed. That gift fundamentally altered the teaching of art history and humanities here, as it added faculty positions in both art history and studio art, helped to build the Cooley Art Gallery, and enriched the library and the visual resources collection.

A crucial part of that enrichment has been the Ostrow distinguished visitors program, which is meant to bring to the College "individuals who are distinguished in their fields, whose contribution primarily resides in their creativity, and who will provide a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery." Inaugurated just over a decade ago, the Ostrow program has supported extended visits by such distinguished artists as Robert Morris, Adrian Piper, Mona Hatoum, Ann Hamilton, and Hans Haacke and by such outstanding academic art historians as Linda Nochlin, Michael Fried, T. J. Clark, and Leo Steinberg. Ostrow visitors typically give a public lecture on their work and also participate in a series of seminars and discussions with Reed students and faculty.

There is no doubt that our current Ostrow visitor is the equal of any of his predecessors. After primary and secondary schooling in his native South Africa, David Freedberg graduated summa cum laude from Yale with exceptional distinction in his major, classics. He then went on to take a doctorate at Balliol College, Oxford. After finishing his schooling, he has had a teaching career in both England and the United States, having held positions at the University of London's Courtauld Institute of Art and, since 1984, at New York's Columbia University. Professor Freedberg has garnered a formidable array of academic honors and awards, beginning with a Rhodes Scholarship that supported his doctoral work at Oxford and including appointments as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford and as Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

This account of education and honors certainly provides testimony to Professor Freedberg's accomplishment. Even greater testimony to that achievement is provided by the over 50 articles and 13 books on his vita. But I'd like to suggest that what makes David Freedberg especially striking as a scholar, and what makes me especially excited to be able to welcome him to Reed this week, is the absolutely extraordinary range of his work. Simply put, although Freedberg has always been a professor of art history, his research and his teaching go far beyond the borders of even the broadest, most capacious definitions of the discipline. Already with his doctoral dissertation, which examined iconoclasm and painting in the 16th-century Netherlands, Freedberg showed himself to be someone who pushed the field's limits. At the time he wrote that dissertation, art historians typically did not pay attention to iconoclasm, the destruction of images, because they believed that their field properly focused on extant works of art; in fact, for this reason they did not just ignore iconoclasm, they actively shunned it as a topic of study. Freedberg's attention to iconoclasm pointed out what all should have known; the destruction of art is at least as interesting to the discipline as is the making of art. (And I will say that this recognition of the importance of iconoclasm is part of the reason David Freedberg is visiting at this moment, as his time at Reed includes a visit to a class I am currently teaching on iconoclasm).

Freedberg's work was also at the forefront of a turn away from a history of art to a history of images, a turn that has now become basic to the discipline. Freedberg's crucial role in the move from art history to visual culture is most apparent in his 1989 book, The Power of Images, a trans-cultural, trans-chronological, trans-national study of the responses to images. The Power of Images is a book that draws at least as much on anthropology as it does on art history. While Freedberg also showed that he could work within the bounds of art history as traditionally defined, notably with his 1984 volume in the standard corpus of paintings by Rubens, he has, since The Power of Images, moved either further afield. On the one hand, there was the collaboration with the conceptual and installation artist Joseph Kosuth, an example of the interaction between art history and studio practice that we try to model in Reed's Art department, but that is very much the exception rather than the rule. On the other hand, there was Freedberg's 2002 book The Eye of the Lynx. That book's subtitle "Art, Science, and Nature in the Age of Galileo" makes clear its interdisciplinarity, as does the fact that it won prizes from the American Historical Association, Phi Beta Kappa, and the American Association of Publishers (but not from any art-historical group).

The Ostrow Distinguished Visitors program was intended, by its donors and conceivers, to "enhance the teaching at Reed of art history as a humanistic discipline." As I've tried to suggest, David Freedberg has done much to show the importance of art history to the humanities. But, in recent work, some of it in collaboration with biological scientists, he has gone well beyond that worthy goal; in these studies, Freedberg has moved into the intersection of art and neuroscience, an area that pushes well past even the interdisciplinary way that the history of art is treated in Reed's humanities program. While not conforming to the letter of the gift, then, I certainly think that David Freedberg's visit conforms to its spirit, as he will surely enhance the teaching of art history at Reed, not only as part of the humanities, but also as part of a full and integrated liberal arts curriculum. It thus gives me the greatest pleasure to introduce David Freedberg, who will be speaking to us tonight on "Violence, the Sacred, and the Hidden God: Religious Art in the Twentieth Century".

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