by Matthew McKelway
The experience of being Ishibashi Visiting Professor in the summer of 2012 was one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career. I taught two courses, a graduate seminar on painting in 17th-18th century Kyoto, and an undergraduate lecture on Muromachi period ink painting. Although I had taught both subjects at my home institution, Columbia University, before last summer, in both cases I found myself challenged to find new ways to think about and present the material to students at the University of Heidelberg. In addition to teaching the two classes, I particularly enjoyed immersing myself in the East Asian library of the Institute of the History of Art, as well as daily interactions with Professor Melanie Trede and the staff of the Institute, including Professor Sarah Fraser, Dr. Anton Schweizer, Dr. Doris Croissant and others.
I found the students at the University of Heidelberg to be curious and engaged with the material we were covering in the two classes I taught. Graduate students in particular, but also several undergraduate students, brought to our seminar and lecture course a broad base of knowledge about East Asia and its art, as well as considerable expertise in East Asian languages. The academic organization of the German university system differs from that of the United States, so I encountered some challenges in finding ways to match my own expectations to those of the students. To name one example, both undergraduate and graduate students at Heidelberg take a larger number of courses per term on average than their American counterparts, so I discovered that it was not always realistic to expect them to read the same number of articles and book chapters per week that I might normally assign. The fact that I was teaching in English, a second or third language for all the students brought its own challenges, but I was delighted to discover how fluent the students were, and was humbled by my own very poor attempts at German.
A highlight of the summer was a trip to view works from the Langen Foundation outside Cologne. There we viewed some two dozen Japanese paintings from the Langen Collection, including Buddhist icons, ink paintings, and handscrolls. Working with the students on this trip, in which Professor Trede and I spoke to them about mountings, boxes, and accompanying documents in addition to the paintings themselves, was no doubt as instructive for me as it was for them. Another particularly enjoyable event was a mini-conference organized at the University of Heidelberg that brought Professor Trede, Dr. Schweizer, and myself together with Professor Hans Thomsen from the University of Zürich for a group of lectures about the arts of the Edo period. The afternoon program yielded much fruitful discussion and shared insights.
Prof. McKelway’s lecture on early Japanese ink painting was a well-presented, well-structured and highly engaging course that highlighted the life and work of selected painters embedded in the monastic structures of 17th century Japan.
For me as a major in Chinese art, the course not only sparked my interest by offering extended information on a topic I formerly was only peripherally acquainted with, but also by linking Chinese and Japanese approaches towards ink painting. McKelway was able to convey the character of Chinese–Japanese religious and artistic exchange and thus painted an interesting image of the degree of cultural interconnectedness of both countries. At the same time, he directed students’ attention to the subtle mechanisms of cultural transfers: A memorable part of the lecture was the confrontation of students with primary material (e.g. temple inventories listing Chinese paintings), which conveyed a sense of the selection processes that shaped the perception of Chinese ink painting in Japan. By giving students the opportunity to examine this kind of material on their own, McKelway added an important aspect to his lecture.
In general, the lecture distinguished itself by the intensive involvement of students in discussions of the paintings and objects, including detailed picture analysis. Thus, it presented itself as a refreshing variation to the traditional German lecture format.
All in all, I perceived Professor McKelway’s lecture as a highly enjoyable course. In terms of content and teaching style, his class was a valuable addition to the general curriculum at Heidelberg University. I would be happy to participate in a comparable format in the near future.
Silvia Faulstich, MA student, Chinese art history
I had the chance to take part in Prof McKelways lecture on "early Japanese ink painting through the 17th century". For me as a student of East Asian Art History with focus on China, Prof McKelway's lecture was most inspiring and illuminative as I got a very clear insight into Japanese painting traditions and painting styles. Because of his detailled analyses of paintings by Japanese Masters such as Shûbun and Sesshû I was able to actually memorize the connection of works with the painters and it really helped me to identify and recognize Japanese paintings. Even though my main field of study is Chinese Art History, Prof McKelway's lecture definitely raised my interest in and understanding of Japanese painting and encouraged me to expand my knowledge in this field.
Fleur Ridinger, MA student, Chinese art history
While attending the lecture of Prof. McKelway on early Japanese ink painting, I was provided with both a comprehensive view and new understanding of this subject, which I did carry interest in, but had little prior knowledge of. Prof. McKelway approached the subject in a humorous, yet profound way, showing his high expertise in this field. For me it was a great chance to learn from him.
Jens-Christopher Bourdick, BA student, European art history
Prof. McKelway's lecture was different from other lectures I attended so far. First of all, the lecture's topic was very specific, which I liked, since it gave opportunity to really learn a lot. Prof. McKelway was always well prepared and that without letting his lecture seem too constructed. I felt he told us directly what he was researching and thinking about. I liked that authenticity very much. He knew quite a lot and it was fun to listen. It was not always easy to follow his words, since it was English and a complicated subject matter, but all in all it worked out for everyone and I really learned lot.
Julia Friedly, BA student, Japanese art history