Introduction to Liberal Arts through the AGES: Interdisciplinary Art Historical Inquiry

Steven C. Bahls, President of the College

Throughout its history, Augustana College has transformed lives. For some students, the wide range of opportunities-intellectual, creative, physical and spiritual—challenges their thinking, while providing balance to their personal growth. For others, the inspiration of meeting a professor head-on with new ideas, spontaneously and even at odd times or places, stretches their perceived boundaries. They find themselves becoming thoughtful leaders, capable of influencing, advancing, understanding and questioning the world in which we live.

Whatever their individual experiences, it is their liberal arts education that makes such transformation possible. And at Augustana, it is our steadfast commitment to the way we interpret and engage liberal arts that makes such transformation happen. We focus and build on a primary strength long held by the college: close, intentional relationships between professors and students within a strong academic program based in the liberal arts. We recognize liberal arts education to be not simply an exposure to a wide array of ideas to tantalize the intellect, but an integration and application of learning gathered from the great thinkers across the spectrum of human achievement. When Augustana students find themselves making essential connections among ideas—purposely promoted in this effort by their faculty mentors-they are transformed.

Transformation itself is something we address within our liberal arts curriculum, beginning with the first-year liberal studies program. Through this first-year sequence, our students learn that a liberal arts education at Augustana is generous and human, imaginative and intuitive. We agree with John Henry (Cardinal) Newman when he observed that those educated in the liberal arts "apprehend the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little" (Newman 93).

Art, we believe, is a particularly effective vehicle for students to think about the "lights and...shades" of the human experience. That is why, during the winter term, the first-year liberal studies curriculum incorporates this interdisciplinary textbook, Liberal Arts through the AGES (Augustana General Education Studies) and complimentary exhibition. As evident in the catalogue, which includes over two hundred works of art, the college's pedagogical art history collection is designed first and foremost to educate our students. Thus, the museum includes collections from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, as well as various regions in the Americas.

The works of art found in Liberal Arts through the AGES embody Augustana's commitment to the liberal arts and each work of art is reproduced with an analysis written by faculty, students, alumni and administrators at the college. According to the creator and editor of this project, Dr. Catherine Carter Goebel, the Paul A. Anderson Chair in the Arts and Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History, this book is designed to help our students "realize that our contemporary worldview has actually evolved over time." She believes that understanding the past "enables us to better discern our present... .Works of art—original texts—offer an ideal historical and multidisciplinary lens through which we might examine the past as it relates to the various eras and themes under investigation..

This publication permits our students to look at the world through the eyes of others, both those of the artists in their historical contexts and those of the Augustana faculty, students and administrators who researched and wrote about these works through their own perspectives. Liberal Arts through the AGES recognizes that different viewers may see different messages in the art, and that sharing these different messages with each other enriches our understanding of the past, provides integrative opportunities for learning in the present, and models how we should strive to build a better world for the future.

Under Dr. Goebel's leadership, the college decided that during the winter term of our first-year liberal studies course, historic works of art should be viewed as primary texts to research and study. Dr. Goebel's book, Origins of Modernity, and its progeny as exemplified in five different editions (including this one) of Liberal Arts through the AGES, constitute a common text for first-year student and resource for all general education. Approximately half the essays were contributed by Augustana students and alumni from the classes of 1987-2019 with a number of different majors and minors, who critically analyzed and researched original works of art. And nearly half the essays published here were written by Augustana faculty and administrators, from various disciplines across the curriculum, who lent their expertise toward the interdisciplinary interpretation of original artwork-a profound accomplishment of multidisciplinary collaboration. This book thus serves to celebrate our community, engaged in the beauty and truth exemplified in this art historical textbook, representing the generosity of spirit and intellectual goals of Augustana College coming to full fruition through faculty/student research.

To have a full "life of the mind," the mind at times needs soothing. We aim to help our students understand not only the historical dimensions and complexities of visual images, but also to view the arts as spiritual sustenance and solace. But a liberal arts college and its art should do more than soothe our souls. For students, in particular, studying art allows us to delve into ideas that will challenge our minds, in a way perhaps less threatening than a lecture or debate as it invites a one-to-one engagement with the artwork. Art often makes an understated point, and we can study it with greater deliberation. Art allows us time and space to linger and reflect. If we are challenged by the art, we can grapple with the artist's ideas and contexts at our own pace.

Art and literature have challenged my own thinking about my vocation. As an attorney, educator and college president, I find that the most difficult decisions to make are those in which one combines justice (what people deserve) with mercy (forbearance from giving people what they deserve). My views of justice have been deeply influenced by Pieter Bruegel's Justicia (web gallery #23—1559), which I analyzed for this publication. This 450-year old work of art is as relevant today as during Pieter Bruegel's time.

Art provides a way to connect with other cultures and other times, without an airplane ticket (or a time machine). The Paul A. Anderson Chair has overseen building a pedagogical art history collection, in coordination with the museum director as well as generous donors and dealers, that spans recorded history from ancient Greece (web gallery #2—ca. 340-330 BCE) through the twentieth century (web gallery #196—1962), encompassing all major western historic periods between (such as web gallery #12—ca. 1425-50 through web gallery #187C—1943). In addition, incorporating many diverse cultures (i.e. web gallery #97—ca. 1840s and web gallery #203B—n.d.), as well as art historical expertise in these areas, similarly enrich the multicultural perspectives of the liberal arts at Augustana College.

I believe Martin Luther was right that art helps us deepen our understanding of faith. I believe that God can speak through the hands of great artists. In the same way, I believe the study of art history helps us to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our world.

Luther wrote that "singing, poetizing, and painting" serve to "praise God's words." This "blessing," he writes, "does not leave us or part from us; it goes through death with us, tears us out of it, and brings us to eternal life, where there is neither death nor fear of dying" (Luther 131). Just as our faith can sustain us throughout this life and the hereafter, the gift of art does not leave us or part from us. Art enhances the life of the mind in a way that neither hardship nor illness can tear away. That is why Augustana has committed itself to giving generations of students the gift of understanding and appreciating original art created throughout the world and throughout time.