Christa Noel Robbins
Associate Professor, Department of Art History
As an art historian, I’m interested in the many ways that works of art can bring us into close contact with history. I mean this quite literally. As objects that come to us from the past, works of art offer us a unique opportunity to have a material and even sensual encounter with history. In my own research, my observations of the material details of art bring me closer to the concerns, questions, and values that were being worked through in a particular historical moment. I have spent a great deal of time, for example, looking closely at abstract paintings from the 1950s and 1960s in order to get a better sense of how artists participated in debates over the value of creativity and individuality in a historical moment where the very notion of identity was in question.
Carefully considering our own relationship to the historical work of art also allows us to consider our own position in relation to the past, to get clear on what we share with or how we diverge from the historical past. I wanted to teach an Engagements class in order to offer first-year students the opportunity to consider the value of encountering art from their own situated points of view, thinking in particular about when and why a work’s location should matter in our viewing. The class I will teach in the Engagements is organized around encountering art objects and artifacts in person. Together we will explore a variety of historical material on Grounds and around Charlottesville, as well as in UVa’s museums and libraries. My hope is that students will leave my course with a greater appreciation and understanding of the many ways that art is not just located in history, but can locate us in relation to that history. Along the way, students will get to know UVa Grounds and its many historical offerings, as well as the city of Charlottesville.