Tuesday, November 18, 2008
NAVSA 2008 - Part 3
The work you see here is a watercolor by Edward Burne-Jones called Cupid and Psyche (ca. 1865) from the Yale Center for British Art collection. This image was used by the planning committee as the conference's logo, probably because it draws on the romanticism we perceive about Victorian art and it is an example of a work by one of the more important artists of the Victorian period.
I'm back in Brooklyn these past two days, but I can report that the rest of the conference went quite well. I received positive feedback on my own presentation, and so I'm pleased with that. Our panel session had two other excellent papers. Dennis Denisoff from Ryerson University in Toronto spoke on "The Pagan Desire of Simeon Solomon's Aesthetic Eye." I was pleased that someone was speaking about Solomon, considering how near and dear he is to my heart. Denisoff discussed aspects of paganism and animalism in Solomon's work, and how they came to symbolize sexual identity and aesthetic value in his art. Rather than agree with other scholars who emphasize Solomon's commonality within the larger Pre-Raphaelite circle, Denisoff argued for an examination of Solomon's individuality, wanting us to consider his contribution to Victorian art as unique. Keren Hammerschlag from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London spoke on "Frederic Leighton's Motionless Men and the Charge of Effeminacy." Leighton comes under much scrutiny in queer criticism because his male figures are homoerotic and his own personal life was consciously shrouded in mystery. Hammerschlag took up the idea of how Leighton played with issues of gender, much the way my friend JJK did in his paper the previous day, although while JJK had focused on issues of ethnicity, Hammerschlag took up contemporary criticism in Leighton's day and examined the charges of masculinity and effeminacy based on his depictions of male figures in some of his paintings. Richard Kaye (Hunter College/CUNY Graduate Center), who moderated the panel session, also added his own remarks about the timeliness of the panel session's topic, as the idea of "queer visualities" allows for a mix of areas and topics that question assumptions about the representation of gender and sexuality. When you combine these papers with my own regarding Gibson's queer sculpture settling in a nexus between Neoclassicism and Victorian Classicism, it's apparent that our panel session was certainly fascinating and addressed some thought-provoking issues.
I didn't go to too many other sessions, although there were plenty from which to pick. One session that I truly enjoyed was called "Victorian Fantasy." There was one paper on noise and meaning in a Gilbert and Sullivan song called "The Nightmare," the second paper was on the implications of drug use in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and the last paper was on Burne-Jones' Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) series of paintings and how they represent both fantasy and aspects of social realism. What was fascinating was how the three papers represented different disciplines (music, literature, painting) yet were able to correlate to one another in terms of how the Victorians perceived fantasy, the dreamworld, and sleep. I also attended a Material Study Session on Victorian Paintings at the Yale Center for British Art. This was enjoyable because of the discussion led by Cassandra Albinson and Jason Rosenfeld (for our half of the group), joined later on by Elizabeth Prettejohn and Tim Barringer.
If I had a concern about the conference at all, it was that it completely exhausted me. However, it was for a good reason. It's one thing to attend panel sessions and talks, but conferences are opportunities for networking, and there was plenty of allotted times for that. I did take advantage of it, and I was pleased to reconnect with people I know in the field, and meet new people as well. The good news is that NAVSA 2008 left me feeling positive about my decision to specialize in this area, which is reinforcement I need every once and a while, because sometimes all this academic work can be a real drag.