March 30, 2022

Office Hours: Drew Thompson: Bard Graduate Center

Art & Education

Arthur Jafa, Love is the Message, The Message is Death, 2016. Installation view, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, 429 West 127th Street, New York. © Arthur Jafa. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery. Photo: Thomas Müller.

Ricardo Rangel, Traveling photographer at the Vasco da Gama Market. Courtesy Centro de Documentação e Formação Fotográfica, Maputo, Mozambique.

Images of revolution collected and presented as part of the “Revolution 3.0” working group at Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, Bayreuth, Germany, January 2016. Photo: Drew Thompson.

Bobby Easter, Joseph Ramos, and Benjamin Wigfall at the artist workshop Communications Village, mid-1970s. Photo: Rose Tripoli. Courtesy Estate of Benjamin Wigfall.

Office Hours: Drew Thompson: Bard Graduate Center

1. Why did you decide to go into teaching?
None of my art history professors looked like me. No one in my family pursued art history as a career path. Until college, the only “art” museums I visited were the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and National Air and Space Museum along with and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. The Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship provided me with the first opportunity to even consider teaching in art history as a career. While completing my dissertation, my alma mater Williams College invited me to teach an African art history course that I felt was missing from the curriculum when I was an undergraduate. Since then, I have felt that the fields of art history and visual culture require a diversity of people and perspectives. Teaching is my way of addressing this need.

2. What drew you to your school and what is your teaching philosophy?
The Bard Graduate Center understands the importance of visual and material culture and is committed to showcasing diverse perspectives. We have a range of disciplinary interests that don’t fall neatly into departments. The institution has identified African and African Diaspora material culture as a key curricular and programmatic area. At present, I’m organizing workshops, symposiums, and exhibitions geared to addressing the following two questions: “What is Black material culture?” and “What does it mean to center Blackness in the study of material culture?” I couldn’t do this type of work in a disciplinary-oriented setting.

Teaching is a critical part of my research process as a writer and curator. As a professor, I don’t have all the answers. I see my role as facilitator. I encourage my students to ask questions, even when they lead to more questions. I come to class to learn from my students, and they always know about cool artists and arts movements that I haven’t heard of.

3. What theory and art history do you consider most essential for your students? What artists or artwork do you refer to most often?
Essential are the writings of Leigh Raiford, Nicole Fleetwood, Édouard Glissant, and Krista Thompson on African-American and Black Diaspora art history. There is the need to bridge the fields of African-American and African art history and visual culture. Additionally, current writings on photography prioritize theory over historical context and specificity. I address this gap in my most recent book, Filtering Histories: The Photographic Bureaucracy in Mozambique, which offers a history of photography in Mozambique.

On the first day of classes, I usually show Arthur Jafa’s Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death and Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me ft. Kendrick Lamar.” My courses on Black modernism, modernism in art history, and the history of photography in Africa reference artists ranging from Black Americans Hale Woodruff and Augusta Savage to Mozambicans Ricardo Rangel and Ângela Ferreira.

Read more of Drew Thompson's Office Hours on School Watch.

Office Hours is a questionnaire series that gathers insights on teaching from artists. In response to ten prompts, educators reflect on the discourses and approaches that animate their teaching, share their visions for the future of art education, and offer advice for students navigating the field of contemporary art.

School Watch presents critical perspectives on art and academia. Featured profiles, surveys, and dialogues consider education in fine art, curating, and critical theory, as well as the ideas and conditions that influence practice.

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