This issue of the Exchange features Dr. Christine Filippone, assistant professor of art & design at Millersville.
Q: How long have you been teaching at Millersville University?
A: Two and a half years.
Q: In your professional opinion, what is the most aesthetically pleasing location on campus? Why?
A: The area around Swan Pond is very pretty, of course, but the late 19th-century neo-Gothic (with Romanesque elements) Biemesderfer Center most impressed me when I first arrived on campus. I grew up in a Victorian house in Philadelphia, so it felt at once familiar and grand. I plan to incorporate Biemesderfer into discussions of architectural history.
Q: Do you remember how old you were when you first caught the art bug?
A: I started drawing obsessively before I can even remember—I have a flash of a memory from the age of two. My mother, who encouraged me, couldn’t keep enough paper in the house. A visit to the Rodin museum in Philadelphia when I was six or seven inspired my love of line and form. I took watercolor lessons for many years as a teenager with my aunt, Fuguet Filippone, who was also an important influence.
Q: Why did you choose to specialize in contemporary art?
A: As much as I love art visually, I am also fascinated by the ideas that art, and especially contemporary art, engages. One of the things I like best about art history is that it incorporates philosophy, history, religion, politics, language, science, etc.—all aspects of culture. I have too many interests to be limited to one knowledge discipline.
Q: You did you dissertation on Science, Technology and Utopias in the Work of Contemporary Women Artists, which was supported by a number of fellowships. Why that topic? What was the most important thing you learned from it?
A: The preceding answer helps to address this question. Also, I have been interested in science and technology for many years. My older brother is a nuclear physicist at Caltech in Pasadena. My siblings, cousins and I grew up watching Star Trek and all things sci-fi and we read all the sci-fi classics. When my brother was 12 he and my cousin built a planetarium in the basement using my uncle’s WWII parachute to simulate the night sky and a homemade star projector. When I was eight years old I helped my brother build a cosmic ray detector in the dining room! My interest in feminism grew from childhood concerns with inequality, gender, racial and otherwise. My best friend from grade school was African American (I grew up in West Philadelphia and went to school with Will Smith, in fact). I realized fairly early that girls/women do not have the same opportunities as boys/men and when I discovered that women are paid 77 cents for each dollar men earn for the same work, gender equality became an important issue for me. The most important thing I learned from my dissertation was that women artists in the 1960s and 70s, in the midst of the feminist movement and at the height of the Cold War, paradoxically embraced science and technology as symbols of progress, but they also saw these historically masculine domains of knowledge and power as cultural monoliths that needed to be questioned.
Q: In the U.S., how many states have you lived, worked in or traveled to as an art professional?
A: Four. I’ve worked in the arts, primarily in museums and galleries, in New York City, Philadelphia, Allentown, New Brunswick, N.J., and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Q: Which location and/or which job was your favorite? Why?
A: My favorite job was my position as executive director of The Print Center, an arts organization dedicated to contemporary printmaking and photography in Philadelphia. It consists of three galleries and a store, which features work by more than 75 artists from around the world. It was an important responsibility to serve as director of this nearly 100 year-old institution. The Print Center (formerly The Print Club of Philadelphia) donated its collection of 1,000 prints to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the 1950s, forming the core of the museum’s now formidable print collection.
Q: You’ve also traveled outside of the United States for art, even extending the opportunity for students to study abroad. Where have those trips taken you?
A: I studied abroad for a semester in Italy during my master’s program, and conducted research for my thesis in Barcelona, Spain. I strongly advocate study abroad for all students, which I think is almost always transformative. I’ve led study abroad trips to Greece, Spain and I brought Millersville students to Peru earlier this year. I’ve also traveled to France, Germany, Switzerland, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
Q: What is your favorite part about leading study abroad trips for students? Is there a common reaction from students during those life-changing experiences?
A: I love when students are as excited as I am to see something they’ve learned about in class. Watching students marvel at the Parthenon in Greece or Machu Picchu in Peru makes me feel that I have successfully passed on the wonder of human accomplishment and a deep interest in culture and history.
Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: I really don’t have a favorite artist—it would be entirely too difficult to choose. Some favorite contemporary artists include Alice Aycock, William Kentridge, Martha Rosler and Wafaa Bilal.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece or collection of artwork?
A: This is also difficult. I will always love Rodin, but I grew up about a mile from the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pa., and was lucky enough to work there one summer years ago. The Barnes houses the most impressive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the U.S., so this is certainly my favorite collection. I took Millersville University students there last year to see the works in their original location, which is about to close forever. I also love Spanish Baroque painting (i.e., Velasquez) and works inspired by those masters—paintings by the American artist John Singer Sargeant are a guilty pleasure.
Q: What was the most memorable part of your work on the Millersville University/Latino Community Mural Project?
A: The most memorable part of this project was learning about the experiences of immigration and cultural assimilation of members of the Latino community in Lancaster, and importantly, seeing students develop an awareness of people from other countries and cultures.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being professor?
A: The most difficult part of being a professor is the many administrative duties that take time away from students and from research.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of being a professor?
A: It is most rewarding to witness the moment of discovery of an idea. In my classes these often come from class discussions, interactions with other students and sometimes from conversations with visiting artists or curators. Three students cried in my contemporary art class this term in response to works of art and the ideas behind them. This is certainly inspiring and rewarding.
Q: Are you ever blown away by the talent of your students?
A: Certainly. The talents I’ve witnessed in my students have come in many forms—intellectual curiosity, analytical skills, interpersonal skills, leadership, emotional intelligence. All of these impress me.
Q: What is your favorite thing to teach students?
A: Honestly, I love to help students think critically, not only about art, but about society and about their own opinions and assumptions. For me, this is one of the most important functions of higher education.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be? Why?
A: Driven… and funny. I was actually designated “Class Clown” in high school. I think perhaps my sense of humor is too dry for the classroom. I often intentionally miss-label slides of myself at important monuments, i.e., “Angelina Jolie at the Parthenon,” and students never laugh. Maybe they think it’s really Angelina. J
Q: Do you have a favorite season? Why?
A: Fall used to be my favorite season, but now as a professor, I prefer summer. J It’s a great time to travel, read and cycle. I also have a pool—perfect for relaxing.
Q: Do you remember what your favorite toy was when you were growing up?
A: Naturally I had Star Trek figures, which were great for imagining far-away travels – consistent with my “on-world” travels.