Location | Paris: Meet Field School Faculty Member Dorothy Barenscott

Meet Dorothy! Resting and daydreaming at the Tuileries Garden in Paris
(photo courtesy: self-portrait by Dorothy Barenscott)

Tell us a little about yourself—your teaching areas and interests and/or your background and how you became connected to the Paris field school?

Walking and talking with students every day was a higlight of the trip for me.
Here I am chatting with Courtney-- Kenny to the right
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
Bonjour! My name is Dorothy and I work as an art historian and researcher in the field of modern and contemporary art history with interests in film/photography history and theory, urban studies, avant-garde movements, and the expanding field of new media studies. In a nutshell, I enjoy thinking and teaching about how techniques and technologies of seeing and art-making impact the way in which individuals and groups produce meaning about themselves and others. I am also very interested in helping students and artists understand and make sense of the dynamic visual worlds they inhabit and bring critical awareness to the history of art as a constructed body of knowledge—one in which they can intersect and leave their own mark. My blog (and the field school blog) have become extensions of these interests and attempt to reach beyond the classroom into non-traditional circuits of information exchange. I am also a lifelong traveler and organizing the Paris Field School was the realization of a long-standing dream I have had to travel with a group of students to one of the most influential art centers in the world and experience both the art and architecture of the city first-hand. The side trip to Documenta was icing on the cake and allowed students to immerse themselves in something that is truly special and one-of-a-kind in the world of contemporary art exhibition.

What was unique or memorable about experiencing Paris with a group of students already interested in and/or practicing art making?

I cannot tell you how happy I am that this moment was captured! It literally made my whole experience in Paris.
Our group standing in front of Jacques Louis David's Oath of the Horatii (1784)
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
Watching students experience works of art they have studied in the classroom is among the most rewarding parts of my job. There is something profoundly unique about watching the individual faces of students light up when they come face to face with an art object recognized from a textbook or especially memorable art history or studio class. It is in fact one of the reasons I became an art historian! Many of the students on the trip were also visiting Europe for the first time, so Nancy and I felt a real sense of responsibility to help them get the most from the trip. I have shared the story on my blog of being a grade 12 student dazzled by my Western Civ teacher’s passionate tales of summer travel abroad, and it has remained a cornerstone of my professional goals to engage students more directly in the study and understanding of art through travel of this kind. There was one very special moment on this trip, when we were all gathered in the Louvre and standing in front of Gericualt’s Raft of the Medusa, that I literally felt overcome with joy. I am so glad this moment and others that day were also photo-documented thanks to Kyubo! Seeing a powerful painting like that come to life through the eyes of students is a beautiful thing and I know that it is an experience none of us there that day will soon forget.

How did you see students connecting what they were learning about the art and history of Paris during the time of the Impressionists with their writing and studio projects?

Nancy and I sit and chat with students outside the Architectural Museum
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)
The connections started early in the pre-trip classes at Kwantlen where students were assigned an individual artist and artwork to research and negotiate in both their art history and studio based assignments. The final projects were remarkably strong and well-conceived taken the compressed time frame of the three weeks of summer classes before departure to Paris, but there was the additional excitement and enthusiasm of knowing that the work that was being completed ahead of the trip would only serve to enrich the time spent in Europe. Once in Paris, the students were assigned daily questions that pushed them to probe and revisit ideas and theories they had learned about in their studies and experimented with in their studio projects, but this time with the embodied experience of walking, breathing, and living in the urban context they had been studying ahead of the trip itself. I am very proud of what the students were able to bring to their writings, studio projects, and journals. I know many of them will continue to work in a creative and critical way with the ideas gained through the field school for many years to come.

Which of the activities during the trip stand out to you? Any special highlights or memorable moments for you?

Every day brought unanticipated highlights! Who would have known that the Paris Metro would have been such a source of excitement and focus for so many of us? We had as much fun getting to the many different activities of each day as the activities themselves. Shopping daily and selecting from all the amazing food choices at local markets for meals, sitting outside sketching in many of Paris’s most beautiful parks, and learning about everyone’s unique talents and abilities over the course of our travels are among the day-to-day highlights of the trip for me. Nancy’s ingenious idea to create the moveable feast and start a tradition of nightly Salons was also instrumental to the real bonding and creative excitement that was fostered over the course of our field school. Other stand out moments for me include the much anticipated visit to the Orsay Museum to finally see the assigned Impressionist paintings; the Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Pompidou!; the wonderful group dinner in the Latin Quarter where we ran into the “flashmob” White Dinner Party on the way home; meeting up with past students Andrea and Jen at different points in the trip, the journey from Paris to Kassel (imagine moving 25 people with too much luggage through cobble stone streets, two metro stops, and two train stations!); the Kassel beer gardens; and of course, every moment of Documenta!    

Another fun moment-- meeting a Courbet lookalike on our biking excursion!
Those who know this painting will get a big laugh.
(photo courtesy: Dorothy Barenscott)
We really feel that this is just the beginning of a signature element of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s B.F.A. Degree and we now have plans in the works for another 6 credit (3 studio credits and 3 art history credits) New York and Venice Biennale Field School in Summer 2013! (I visited Venice last year and blogged about the exhibition here). Of course, an undertaking like this does not happen without a great deal of planning and support. I am especially grateful to my co-field school leader Nancy Duff (Department Head for the Fine Arts Department) for supporting the early idea of this field school and enthusiastically agreeing to plan and execute the first trip. I also want to thank Nancy and her partner Corrie for being such patient, adventurous, and fun travel companions—for anyone that travels a great deal, you know how important these qualities are! Important acknowledgements and thanks also go to Sandra Schinnerl and Andrea Reynolds in the International Office—without all of their logistical support and experience, the field school would not have been realized. Thanks also to the student fundraising efforts spearheaded by Stephanie MacKay—you leave a fantastic legacy for future field school students to follow! Overall, I feel privileged for so many reasons to have traveled with this specific group on our department’s inaugural field school adventure. Each and every student on this trip contributed to the success that it turned out to be, and I am proud that this blog project will allow these memories to live on and inspire future participants.

Experiencing Documenta-- priceless and hard to describe. This picture says it all!
Here I am with students (and past students who joined us in Kassel): Tina, Jen, Andrea, Mitra, Tessa, and me
(photo courtesy: Kyubo Yun)