Much like the Colleges’ students, HWS faculty draw their inspiration from people who were their professors and mentors. Professor of Art Patricia Mathews recently honored her mentor by publishing a scholarly work in recognition of him. Mathews wrote an article, “Listening to Silence: the Art of May Stevens,” in Donald Kuspit’s “Philosophical Art Criticism” to honor her graduate school mentor and art critic Donald Kuspit, professor of art history and philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook.
“The book – Donald Kuspit’s Philosophical Art Criticism – is what’s called a ‘festschrift,’ or a work that honors a fine teacher,” explains Mathews. “It’s not necessarily about that teacher, but it certainly expresses things gained from their teaching.”
Matthews studied with Kuspit at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“Kuspit, who wrote the first book in art criticism, stood out for me because he was very interested in theory,” explains Mathews. “In addition to having a Ph.D. from studying with Adorno at the Frankfurt School and being an incredibly smart man, Kuspit was also an astoundingly good teacher. He was interested in not only the work of art itself, but also what the critics said about that work as well.”
In her chapter on artist May Stevens, Mathews wrote about an artist that Kuspit himself wrote about. By taking both a psychoanalytic approach and considering what Stevens herself said about her work, she is employing tools of analysis that Kuspit used and taught.
“Psychoanalysis and Stevens’ perspective proved to be central to my chapter because so many of her images are of her mother, which is definitely connected to oedipal themes and the power dynamic between her parents,” Mathews says.
In this particular publication as well as Mathews’ academic work in general, theory is central. “From my perspective, incorporating theory is tremendously important to art criticism,” Mathews said. “There’s an important three-part interaction between artist, art historian and critic that has to be explored. Critical theory in art lends itself well to this kind of well-rounded understanding of an artist or a work.”
Mathews has a deep scholarly interest in psychoanalysis and often incorporates it into her academic writing. Her academic focus also includes the study of feminists and gender in art.
Thinking back on her time as a student of art, Mathews said that, “Many other professors have been important in my life as a scholar and as a professor but none quite like Kuspit. He is the mentor of my life.”
A mathematics major before switching to art history, Mathews received her B.A. from the University of Houston and her Ph.D. from UNC, Chapel Hill. She specializes in women’s studies in art history, 19th and 20th century women artists and critical theory. Mathews previously held a long time post at Oberlin College.