by Satya Levine, OLLI staff

Q: How did you discover your interest in your subject and what course of education did you pursue that led you to this point?

A: I have been interested in art all my life, but my arrival in the field of art history occurred fairly late, after majoring (and minoring) in painting, geology, philosophy, Latin, and women’s studies. I settled on the history of art because I found the discipline to be endlessly expansive, capable of accommodating all my various interests. I specialize in nineteenth-century European art. I feel a strong affinity with the century in its European form; a century that gave us Courbet, Manet, and Cézanne, as well as Darwin, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Marx, and Freud. A century caught up in the vortices of desire—between the classical or agrarian past and a series of possible utopian and dystopian futures, infused with a hopeful melancholy, looking for meaning in form.

Q: What are your current projects and areas of interest?

A: Currently I am completing a PhD dissertation in the History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley which focuses on nineteenth-century French Animaliers (artists who paint and sculpt works with animal subjects). I am interested in how these artists’ practices intersected with those of scientists at mid-century: how they went about selecting and representing their subjects, their techniques of observation, their ideas of animal psychology and behavior. My primary focus is on the animal paintings of Rosa Bonheur, whom you may know by her famous painting The Horse Fair (1853-55), which is now in the Met.

Q: What is your vision for your OLLI course and what do you hope to have as the high point?

A: My hopes for the class are manifold. I hope to provide members with the historical context and critical tools they will need to better appreciate the upcoming exhibition on which the class is based: The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 at the Legion of Honor from 18 February—17 June 17, 2012. We will have the pleasure of viewing an astonishing collection of late-nineteenth century British works—paintings, furniture, wallpapers, stained glass, printed fabrics, and book illustrations—all painstakingly crafted. We will discuss the materials, techniques, and processes the artists employed in making their objects as well as the symbolism and myths to which they were drawn. Beyond art appreciation, I hope that we can all engage in some lively discussions about ideas of “beauty” and “Art for Art’s Sake”, craftsmanship and industrial production, and how works by artists involved in the Aesthetic Movement differed from the art being produced during the same period in France. I hope the entire course is a high point!