Jeff Fieberg may be a chemist by definition, but his passion for art history inspires him to combine Chemistry and Art into creative and life altering experiences for his students. During CentreTerm 2013, he took his “Molecular Modernism: Manet to Matisse” class to France, where they explored works from Realist to Fauvist artists from the 1860’s to the 1900’s, including the Impressionists.
Students were able to experience art in the very spots in Paris and Provence where the artists created it, and began making connections between art and science through some of the techniques Fieberg uses. Although not the first time he has conducted a class like this, nor the first time he has taken students abroad, Fieberg found the France course brought him full circle, relating back to his own experiences abroad.
During his senior year at Centre, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris, Florence, Munich, and Amsterdam, where he was able to experience art, from realism to abstraction with a new outlook. This experience really spoke to him, inspiring him to pursue both art and chemistry because of the unique pairing between the two fields.
His goal for his students is to grasp the intertwining nature of art and science, and to analyze art effectively using chemistry and technology. This matchless bonding of humanities and hard sciences attracts students from both fields of study, allowing him the opportunity to expand upon the abstract nature of chemistry and continue to explore his own love of art.
He states, “Chemistry by definition is abstract.” Yet, when looking at art in the context of how science can help analyze paintings, students begin to see beyond the abstract and notice how art historical issues affected Impressionism. Science and technology helped birth Impressionism through the influx of portable easels, the metal paint tube, and flat feral metal paint brushes following the Industrial Revolution. Impressionist artists were able to move outdoors and broaden their artist expression through exploration of bright new pigments and 19th century color theory.
Because the research was an important aspect of this assignment, Fieberg conducted significant prep work prior to the trip to find case studies combining science and art history during this time-period of French artists. Some of the case studies were actually in French, which proved to be quite interesting. In addition, Fieberg investigated the Cincinnati Art Museum's Vincent Van Gogh painting, Undergrowth with Two Figures, while on sabbatical at the Indianapolis Art Museum. This investigation was used as a case study in the course and the students visited the grounds of Chateau d'Auvers where Undergrowth is thought to have been executed. http://www.centre.edu/professor-jeff-fieberg-makes-important-discovery-in-van-gogh-painting/
Fieberg also introduced his students to the Google Art Project, www.google.com/culturalinstitute, where they could explore the works of art and answer questions about the paintings prior to the trip. Once they arrived in France, they were able to take what they had seen on the Art Project and make valid connections to the real works of art in the museums.
Using the knowledge they gained from the Art Project and through exploration of the case studies surrounding x-ray images of paintings, infrared images of underpaintings, and x-ray fluorescence characterization of pigments, his students used iPads to present on how science informed art historical issues in the paintings.
As students were presenting with iPads while observing a piece of art, they were able to listen to classmates’ research and understand significant chemical changes that occurred throughout history to create what they saw before them.
Through technology, students were able to begin to make the connections between art and chemistry, understanding just how significant a role science plays in analyzing art, and that chemistry actually explains the changes in the paintings.
Fieberg’s students not only experienced an amazing trip abroad, but they were introduced to a pedagogical paradigm shift where they explored the historical progression of art, using both sides of their brain to connect humanities and science in innovative learning techniques that have lasting results.
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