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Letter from the Director: Autumn/Winter 2009-10

Hood Quarterly, autumn/winter 2009-10
Brian Kennedy, Director

The term “visual literacy” was coined by John Debes in 1968, when the International Association for Visual Literacy was established; it has held an annual conference ever since, indicating the potency of the concept. While visual literacy has been variously defined—it has after all been enrolled as a basic premise within a range of disciplines, including visual studies, visual culture, visual communications, and visual graphics—in essence it concerns itself with constructing meaning from images. The Hood Museum of Art’s well-established methods for teaching with objects include training in how to look at, see, describe, analyze, and interpret them. We believe that if time and concentration are given to the study of objects and images, their meanings will be more fully understood. Time is in short supply for college students these days, as it is for everyone else. Yet though our world is already image saturated, and time is quite precious indeed, we must not be seduced into thinking that just because we have looked at something, we have actually understood it.

The current generation of college entrants is the first to have had a lifetime’s exposure to the Internet. These “digital natives” have been living a revolution since 1991, in a manner perhaps akin to those first exposed to the Gutenberg printing press in the fifteenth century, or even to the invention of cuneiform writing 3,500 years before that. It truly is an exciting time to be alive, and especially to work and study in an educational institution. Sonia Landy Sheridan’s engagement with technology since the 1960s, as the digital age has emerged, has been marked by outstanding creativity and imagination. She is the epitome of the passionate artist-teacher. This fall at the Hood we are delighted to mount an exhibition of her work, drawn from the extensive archive she generously deposited at the museum in 2004. It coincides with a major show titled Modern and Contemporary Art at Dartmouth, the latest in a series begun in 2007 and underwritten by members of the Hood Board of Overseers and other donors that seeks to provide detailed access to the museum’s extensive permanent collections. We are indebted to those who have made gifts of works of modern and contemporary art over the years, or provided acquisition funds for them. The museum’s directors and staff members have long maintained a commitment to the contemporary, resulting in an extraordinary array of acquisitions in various media.

Art That Lives? Exploring Figural Art from Africa, an exhibition in the Gutman Gallery, considers the ways in which figural sculptures in Africa have been understood as an active force, even as living, animate beings. Questions about whether objects have the power to “come alive” may be open to wide interpretation, but in the hands of a great teacher and facilitator, they can certainly appear to do so. Kathy Hart, the Hood’s exemplary Associate Director and the Barbara C. and Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming, was selected recently as the inaugural recipient of Dartmouth’s Sheila Culbert Distinguished Employee Award. This award is testament to Kathy’s personal distinction, but also, as she is quick to say, to the talents and commitment of the entire museum staff. Each of us is dedicated to encouraging visual literacy by creating opportunities for teaching and learning with objects. We thank all of you who support the work of the museum and encourage you to visit often in the coming months. If you are not yet a museum member, please do consider joining us. You will be most welcome.

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