Seeking New Perspectives
Perspective in Art and Design
In 2019, Professor Hyein Lee accompanied a group of illustration and design students to The Museo d’Arte di Bologna in Bologna, Italy. This museum specializes in modern and experimental art, showcasing work by Italian artists such as Renato Guttuso. To Professor Lee’s surprise, her students reacted differently to modern art than they did to older genres, such as baroque or renaissance. The purpose of the pieces and the elements that worked together to create them were not evident to the students, who became frustrated over how they perceived the art. Professor Lee realized that the students instinctive critical reactions were indicative of a lack of modernist perspective within their studies.
In her years as a professor and artist, she’s learned the importance of exposing oneself to diverse perspectives and interpretations. This has become more apparent throughout her work in the Remaking Critical Theory research project. Her role involved teaching design workshops on how to create zines. Like other faculty involved in the project, she also participated in the critical theory readings and discussions alongside students. The project created an environment much different than her typical illustration classroom: she got to make art side by side with students, while listening to their thoughts and perspectives on critical theory.
Critical thinking is all about questioning what’s in front of you, thinking about it more deeply than the way it’s been presented. Through participating in the critical discussions during project sessions, Professor Lee has developed a stronger appreciation for critique. “Now I appreciate critics. I do read critiques, but I didn’t think of it as productive work. But it is. The act of critiquing something is also making things. It’s also productive. It helps me judge things, decide which movies to watch, what clothes to buy. I can’t believe I just ignored it until now, I just didn’t think of it that way.”
After seeing how well students in the Remaking Critical Theory project interacted with critical theory and applying critical thinking, Professor Lee is curious about what ways she might integrate it into her classroom. One way would be teaching philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement, which she considers to be the birth of abstract art. “Kant talks about how if you love someone, you would love them just for who they are, not because they have money or they look pretty. It’s the same thing with art – you should love art purely for what it is. You should love the essence of it. I think reading that would help students appreciate modern and contemporary art more.” By studying theory and looking deeper into modern art, students would be able to approach it more critically – to discover the answers for themselves when they get angry and question why.
Professor Lee found the Remaking Critical Theory project to be fun. She never stopped being excited to be inspired by others and their unique interpretations of the texts. She specifically appreciated the way Brandon McFarlane and Alexander Hollenberg facilitated sessions. “A lot of the teaching I do tends to be top down, I’ll show them what I know, and even if I give them readings,I know what kind of thing to expect. But I see Brandon and Alex making it more open to students, everybody’s equal, and the readings are open to everyone’s interpretations.” This process opened her up to the idea of allowing students to tell her the answers, and helping them build from there.