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Getting a "Sense" of Latin American Art

By Lauren Highfill

Some people might think art history classes are full of monotonous lectures, faded slideshows and passive readings. Retired Director of Galleries and Associate Professor of Art Emeritus Roberta Griffin says many history classes fall victim to this “dryness of history.” However, in the "ARH 3550: Latin American Art course" she taught this semester, Griffin brought the process of learning about art history to life.

Jackie Moreno Early wearing her Inca-inspired jewelry creations

John Hamilton with his painting entitled

"Aeropintura-Una Guerra Diferente"

Over the course of the semester, students took several trips to galleries like the Naomi Silva Gallery in Atlanta, which Griffin says was one the first galleries in the city to show Latin American art and document their experience of the art. Students also visited the homes of prominent collectors of Latin American art, and Griffin even had a collector bring in hand-woven Peruvian belts for the class to handle.

“What you learn in a book is important,” said Griffin, “but what you see and touch and feel with your own senses is going to resonate with you more than what’s in a book."

Griffin’s students agree. Jackie Moreno Early said, “I really like that in this class you don’t just learn about art, you see it in person.” Experiencing art with all five senses led the class to create their own works of art at the end of the semester. Early created a silver-wired necklace with handcrafted beads and matching earrings, which were inspired by the Incan culture. “I had taken a jewelry making class before and I liked how I could incorporate the symbols of Incan culture into the pieces.”

Another student, John Hamilton, was captivated by the study of Mexican art. “I had followed European art before taking this class, but I learned a lot more about Mexican art and how it dominates the cultural scene down there.” For his final project, Hamilton was inspired by Diego Rivera’s towering murals to create a 4’x3’ social commentary on American life.

When students are inspired by other artists, Griffin said, “they can really participate in their own learning. They use critical judgment to establish a depth of understanding so that they can create something new from their knowledge.”

This learning and mixing of knowledge and talent is part of what connects the class to the KSU Celebration of the Year of the Atlantic World. Spanning more than 20 countries, “Latin America is a mixture of so many different cultures and that mix helps create something new and very unique in the arts,” said Griffin. “The exhibit of Afro-Cuba earlier this year is evidence of that.”

More than a full understanding of Latin American art, Griffin hopes that her students understand that “Latin American art is not some very specialized subtopic of art history. It’s very integrated into the fabric of art history itself. Often the paintings of Diego Rivera are as equally expressive as, say, Michelangelo.”



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