My alma mater, Wake Forest University, this year used a new approach to freshman orientation. Rather than the usual reading of a book, watching of a film, or attending of a lecture which is later discussed, the incoming class were assigned the viewing of a painting, Frederic Church’s “The Andes of Ecuador” (1855). The painting hangs in the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, on the WFU campus, and I spent a good deal of time standing in front of it myself, during my years there.

From the university magazine (fall 2010, Jennifer Raab):

“Why ask students to look at a work of art? Because developing the ability to become critical viewers and thinkers is an essential part of a liberal arts education. The most basic skills needed to look at and interpret a 19th-century painting are, in fact, very similar to those needed to visually analyze the images we encounter every day, whether on computers, television screens or billboards. The culture and historical contexts might be different, but the questions are often the same. [This orientation experience] enabled students to see how a single work of art can engage issues of science and exploration, religion and spectacle, politics and perception. By looking carefully and closely, details can become the source of revelation.”

 

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