Thomas Cornell named Steele Professor of Studio Art
On Tuesday night, Professor Thomas Cornell was named the Richard E. Steele Professor of Studio Art, an honor given in appreciation for his forty years of developing the visual arts program at Bowdoin. Applauding the event was a large audience of Bowdoin students and faculty alike. All gathered in Kresge Auditorium to hear Cornell speak and present slides of his artwork.
Cornell's art addresses issues of social justice. He challenges artists of today to forget the self-absorption that has marked the art world of the Twentieth Century, encouraging them to confront the social issues of today. His inaugural lecture, entitled "On 'Nature' and 'Good'-An Artist's Reconciliation of Aesthetics and Ethics," included a quick tour through his years of work as an artist and a look at his interest in how art responds to the world at large.
Cornell's earliest work concentrated on etchings and sketches. These detailed etchings show his immense interest in the organic quality of nature. His first publication, entitled The Monkey, featured similar material, focusing on evolution, a process that Cornell sees as a bridge between society and nature.
A publication on Frederick Douglass, which Cornell admitted was not an easy thing to accomplish during a time of racial turmoil, dealt more directly with his interest in civil liberties. Further integrating his art with social issues was his 1969 triptych entitled The Dance of Death. This massive work was a response to the war in Vietnam.
To conclude his lecture, Cornell focused on the "Bather Series." He showed the audience multiple versions of these classical style paintings and discussed them. One of the primary concerns here was, once again, promoting racial equality.
Several other themes that Cornell's art has explored were highlighted here: the healthy and happy relationships between family members, especially between fathers and their children. Cornell also focuses on an acceptance of nature's power over human life. These major themes run through Cornell's body of work.
Recognition of Cornell's talent extends far beyond the Bowdoin campus. He has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including a National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities Fellowship, a Fullbright Grant, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. Before joining the Bowdoin faculty he taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Princeton University. On campus, he currently instructs the Painting II and Printmaking II courses every spring.
The sizeable audience in Kresge represents the appreciation that Bowdoin feels for Cornell, and rightfully so. Thomas Cornell was Bowdoin's first full-time visual arts professor. His concerns for justice and harmony spread far beyond the borders of art, and his influence can be felt in many departments across campus.
However, his works and their social messages reach far beyond the Quad and into museums and galleries across the nation.