February 04, 2020
Distinguished art historian Arthur Wheelock visited Rachel Pollack's UW1020 class Dutch Art at the National Gallery of Art. Arthur Wheelock recently retired as senior curator of Dutch and Flemish Art at the NGA and is widely known for his blockbuster Vermeer exhibition in 1995. In this course, his scholarship is central to class discussion and serves as a model for students to approach writing about art.
During this class session, students had the opportunity to ask him questions about his 45 years at the National Gallery and how he approaches Dutch art when writing catalogue entries, scholarly articles, and developing exhibitions. He encouraged students to go see the art they are writing about. Nothing can substitute from this first-hand experience. In this class, students meet with Professor Pollack every Friday at the National Gallery, and this first-hand approach is essential to the course. He also was honest about the writing process. The final published version of his work is never exactly what he started with in his first draft. He constantly returns to the art he is studying and allows the art to shape his impressions instead of forcing an interpretative lens upon the art.
Here’s what Professor Pollack’s students had to say about the experience:
Heather Herbstritt – Art History major, Class of 2021
I was fortunate enough in my UW Dutch Art History Class to meet the esteemed Authur Wheelock. When a classmate asked about where to start when writing about art, Wheelock told us to start with the art in front of us and allow it to live in our soul. When I heard this sentiment I had never identified with a statement more. I understood that the power and passion evident in Wheelock's scholarship comes from him allowing the art inside himself rather than remaining an objective observer. While facts and sources are inevitable, feeling the art is at the core of understanding it.
Katherine Capristo – Art History major, Class of 2023
Arthur Wheelock’s vibrant descriptions of Dutch artwork and in-depth formulated opinions about the greatest masters of painting breathed life into what may be the greatest collection in the National Gallery of Art. It is through his writing that our University Writing class began to find the personality and heart within these works, and meeting the source of our newfound passions upon his visit to GW was an incredibly exciting, yet humbling, experience! Dr. Wheelock sat in the front of the room and immediately engaged with us in a comfortable and informative conversation, answering individual’s questions about himself and his work, all while showing genuine interest in the happenings of the course. To see one of the greatest writers in all of art history as an approachable human was truly awakening, and our University Writing class adored his visit and learned a great deal!
Lauren Grueninger – Philosophy and English double major, Class of 2023
Dr. Wheelock's visit was extremely interesting, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to hear his insights on art history research and art from the Dutch Golden Age. Because of his long career and decades of experience, he was able to give us advice for our research essays, which I found very helpful. I really appreciated his expertise and his suggestions came in handy when I was writing my paper. Not only that, but it was also fascinating to hear him speak about his career at the National Gallery of Art and share some impressions of Dutch artists and fellow art historians. Overall, I was very grateful that he came in to talk to our class.