UofT Art Historian Has Useful Perspective on Photography in the Post-Truth Era
Monday, February 27, 2017
An art historian, Bear is interested in the sociology of knowledge, in particular, how people in different historical periods become convinced that what they are looking at is real.
Bear’s passion is how works of photography are received, rather than how they are produced. His first book, Disillusioned: Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject, recently won the prestigious 2016 Historians of British Art book award for a post-1800 subject.
“I’m interested in the skills people develop or have imposed upon them to make sense of visual representations,” said Bear, an associate professor in the Department of History of Art in the Faculty of Arts & Science. “In the past three months terms like fake news and alternative facts have become common. This new vocabulary makes us aware that these questions are important and are relevant to what makes a citizen informed about his or her place in the world.”
Photos don’t tell us much; supplementary information is key
For example, during President Trump’s inauguration, questions arose about the size of the crowd in attendance and photos were used to support the conclusions. Unsurprisingly, Bear received a number of emails as events unfolded.
“In our culture, visual representation and its relation to evidence, proof and the truth may be difficult to sort out,” he said. “Photographs themselves don’t tell us very much; supplementary information is key. The idea that there is smoking gun proof from a photo is problematic.”
Given the timeliness of this subject, this year’s Historians of British Art book award was all the more appropriate.
People have expectations for photographs to be an impartial reflection of the real world
“I had no idea that I was being considered at all,” Bear said. “It’s a nice surprise. The main benefit is recognition. It will allow my book to reach a wider audience and I hope it will open doors for research.”
The book, which grew out of his doctoral research, explores “why people are compelled to believe certain kinds of images and not others. Photography seemed like a good place to start, because people have heightened expectations for photographs to be an impartial reflection of the real world, and we know that’s not true.”
Bear took a trip back in time to the beginnings of photography as a medium to compare what sense people make of photos compared to older, more traditional media such as painting.
Historical paintings created before photography provided a public record of battles and events
He is currently exploring historical paintings created before photography was invented and how they provided a public record of battles and other historical events.
“In the first quarter of the 19th century, historical paintings go from being the most important genre of painting to almost invisible,” Bear said. “Eventually, objects used in battle or live testimony from that battle seemed more immediate to viewers than paintings of them. My hypothesis is that they became less important because they don’t give viewers the same proximity to the past that other kinds of evidence do.”
Bear didn’t set out to become an art historian. Growing up outside New York City, he had access to an abundance of museums and loved the art he experienced. As he earned his bachelor’s degree in literature, Bear realized that his essays focused largely on the visual elements in the stories. He began incorporating art history courses into his curriculum and moved on to study art history at the graduate level at Columbia University.
“By then, I had some sense that I was interested in modern art,” Bear said. “19th century art provided me with a way of thinking about the origins of technological and social movements that seemed to offer a way to get sense of our own culture and moment.”
This story was originally published on the University of Toronto Arts & Science News Site (Feb. 24, 2017)
Article by: Elaine Smith
Prof. Jordan Bear awarded Historians of British Art Book Prize
Friday, January 20, 2017
The History of Art and Graduate Department of Art is delighted to announce that Associate Professor Jordan Bear has been awarded the 2016 Historians of British Art (HBA) book award for a single-authored work dealing with a post-1800 subject, for his book Disillusioned: Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject. Awards were granted in three different categories, and the winners were chosen from a nominating list of over eighty books from more than thirty different presses. In Disillusioned, Bear tells the story of how photographic trickery in the 1850s and 1860s participated in the fashioning of the modern subject. By locating specific mechanisms of photographic deception employed by the leading mid-century photographers within this capacious culture of discernment, Disillusioned integrates some of the most striking—and puzzling—images of the Victorian period into a new and expansive interpretive framework. Bear has also been awarded an Honorable Mention for the 2016 Sonya Rudikoff Prize for best first book in Victorian Studies, awarded by the Northeast Victorian Studies Association. Many congratulations on this achievement!
For more information on this year’s HBA Book Awards, please visit the Historians of British art website.
To find out more about Disillusioned, please visit the Penn State University Press website.
In Memoriam, Jann Marson
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
It is with shock and sorrow that we must post the awful news that Jann Marson died of a heart attack on Saturday, at the age of 44.
Jann had been living and teaching in Portland for the last few years. For those of you who never got a chance to know him, Jann was writing his dissertation on the Belgian Surrealist Marcel Mariën.
Jann had a varied career before coming to U of T to do his MA and PhD, founding and running his own press for artists’ books as well as working for other printing houses, and performing as a bassist in the band Graveltruck. When he arrived at U of T from Idaho, he embraced his studies wholeheartedly. His brilliance was widely recognised; he was awarded a SSHRC Vanier, a Fulbright, and a Getty residential fellowship. He published his first article in Book History in 2013 (he was in the collaborative graduate program in Book History and Print Culture as well as the Department of Art). He had assembled a great deal of unpublished primary source material on Mariën through intensive archival work, and he was set to defend his dissertation this year.
Jann touched the lives of many through his music, artists’ books, teaching, writing, and of course his presence. He was devoted to his students at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. He had also in recent years found happiness with his partner Luna and her two children in Portland. He will be profoundly missed.
– Alison Syme
In memoriam, George Hawken, 1946 – 2016
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
With sorrow we announce the death of George Hawken, Professor Emeritus, on December 12th 2016. George was a brilliant draughtsman and master of intaglio printmaking, whose highly individual drawing style seemed to conjure new metamorphic entities into being, whether the subject was a portrait or the four elements. His “Metamorphosis Folio” was aptly named. Generations of students have profited from George’s remarkable technical mastery and patience, always imparted in support of students finding their own identity and voice. With Colin Campbell, George conceived and implemented the Visual Studies Program, first in the Department of Art, and then in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The bare facts of George’s many exhibitions are in his curriculum vitae; but his gentle humour and exceptional contributions as an artist and teacher can only be intimated.
The Class of ’51
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
(L to R: Charles Comfort, John Golding, and Stephen Vickers)
Shirley (Tyte) Beatty, Class of ’51, sent along this photograph of Charles Comfort, John Golding, and Stephen Vickers. Students of that era in what was then called the Department of Art and Archaeology were taught by such eminent figures as the distinguished medievalists Peter Brieger and Stephen Vickers, and the major Canadian artist and Director of the National Gallery, Charles Comfort (a founding faculty member of the Department). Shirley Beatty remembers going to Comfort’s class every Saturday morning for a full year to the army reserve barracks on the east side of St. George Street at Bloor, where students painted in different genres (portrait, still life) to learn about actual historical techniques of art-making (including egg tempera and fresco). The Fine Art studio courses, like courses in philosophy, history, and modern languages, were part of the core art history and archaeology program.
John Golding, “E.C.M. SD.” 1976. Oil on canvas. 182.88 x 152.4 cm. Gift by bequest of Murray Davis, (UC 4T8), 1998. Collection of University College, University of Toronto
Beatty’s cohort in the Class of ’51 included a young student from Mexico, John Golding (1929-2012). Golding was a notable graduate of the Department of Art and Archaeoloy, who went on to become both as an eminent artist, teaching painting at the Royal College of Art, and a major art historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art. His book Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907–1914 (1959) is a richly considered standard study, republished in numerous revised editions. Golding co-curated the landmark exhibitions Picasso: Sculptor/Painter, at the Tate Gallery in 1994; and Matisse/Picasso, in 2002-03, at the London Tate Modern, the Grand Palais in Paris, and MoMA New York. His book Paths to the Absolute (2000), Golding’s consideration of the meanings of twentieth century abstraction, won the prestigious Mitchell prize in 2002.
In 2014 Shirley Beatty, who had a career in film production and editing for the United Church of Canada, generously endowed the William R. and Shirley Beatty Undergraduate Scholarships for students in History of Art with the highest level of financial need. This is to ensure students would be able to have access to the fulfilling experience of studying art and art history in our department that she had had, regardless of their financial circumstances. The gift is also meant to send a larger message about the importance of the study of art and the humanities, and the way they enrich life, no matter what the career. “Hopefully, with a little bit of help from this scholarship they will have less of a financial burden. Perhaps they’ll be able to enjoy the university experience more fully, as I did, and focus more on fulfilling their dreams instead of just dreaming them.”
Two graduates of the Class of ’51, Sybil Salvin Rampen (L) and Shirley (Tyte) Beatty (R) at the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre
Another member of the Class of ’51, Sybil Salvin Rampen is an artist and educator. Following her B.A. in the University of Toronto in Art and Archaeology she pursued studies in Paris and London, and attained an Art Specialist designation from the Ontario College of Education. She is the founder of the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre near Oakville, where she teaches art and mentors emerging artists. http://www.joshuacreekarts.com/sybil-rampen/ Set in beautiful gardens, it is a cultural facility promoting creative projects, local heritage, community, outreach, accessibility, and ecology through workshops, films, musical events, and lectures. As a contribution to the history of the department, Sybil Rampen gave her beautiful (illustrated) undergraduate notes taken in Peter Brieger’s classes to the Department of Art library.
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