Team Profile: Grinnell College
Vicki Bentley-Condit, Jackie Brown, Lesley Wright
Grinnell's team has a long history of fruitful collaboration on projects at the intersection of art and biology. Though housed in different departments, Jackie Brown (Biology) and Vicki Bentley-Condit (Anthropology) both teach courses that explore the life of animals from evolutionary and ecological perspectives. Vicki's research and teaching expertise is the evolution and behavior of primates, including humans. Jackie's courses consider the ecological and evolutionary diversity of animals, with a particular emphasis on the lives of invertebrates. Both work constantly with students on the difficulties of looking at, seeing, quantifying and considering what animals do. Lesley Wright (Art, Faulconer Gallery) has a long-term scholarly interest in biological themes in art and has overseen and curated a number of exhibitions at Grinnell's Faulconer Gallery that explore these themes. She has involved many faculty, including Vicki and Jackie, in their development and programming, so we are ready and eager to further collaborate on developing curricular elements around these common interests.
Curriculum Development Plans
With animals as the focus, our goal is to determine effective points of connection and inspiration between artists and other disciplines, and to push the boundaries between the disciplines. Our initial plans are to develop courses or course modules next year that explore these themes and involve collaboration between us and our students.
For example, Lesley's advanced exhibition seminar ("Captive Creatures") in the fall will focus on the development of student-designed exhibition based on works in the collection of the Faulconer and other nearby institutions. Jackie and Vicki will visit the course to talk about how scientists look at animals, and Jackie's first-year tutorial (topic: "Envisioning Nature") students will interact with Lesley's during the students' development process.
Jackie's advanced biology seminar ("History of Biological Thought" ) will have a major course module on visualization in biology and medicine, and his students will view and interpret the student exhibition developed in the previous semester. Lesley and Vicki could be involved in helping interpret the role of art in early biology and the role of photography and video in primatological studies.
Similarly, Vicki will design a course module to be incorporated into her Intro to Anthropology course in the spring '13 semester and into her anthropology seminar ("Biological Basis of Human Society") the following year. This module will focus on the human-animal relationship from both evolutionary (e.g., why humans are attracted to some animals and not others; the role of meat consumption in our evolutionary past) and cultural (e.g., norms, religious beliefs, official policies) perspectives and will likely involve students interpreting the student exhibition in addition to conducting cross-cultural research (via on-line databases or, perhaps, internet-based international news sources) on these issues.
A long term goal is to use these course experiences to design a full exhibition in the Faulconer Gallery in a subsequent year.