The Dialect of Art
Mapping Transitions through the Vehicle of the Arts is a research program unlike any other at the University of Minnesota. Through funding from the Luce Foundation, art professor Thomas Rose was given the opportunity to create a project that explores the arts, humanities, and religions of Asia.
As defined by Rose, the initiatives of the grant are grounded in the examination of cultural, social, and economic transitions, both historical and contemporary, as they apply to artistic education, practice, and exhibition in China. Thematically, the initiatives are grounded in the examination of artistic transitions at three points in time: the multiple transitions of the contemporary era, the Ming-Qing transitions of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the transitions that accompanied the introduction of Buddhism to China.
Rose based ideas for the project on his previous engagement with the Beijing Film Academy, a collaboration that brought Chinese artists to the US and vice versa. He incorporated a similar exchange in the Mapping Transitions program, bringing several Chinese artists to Minnesota throughout the year, where they exhibit their work in classrooms and local galleries.
Rose, however, wanted to focus on more than just exhibits. He wanted the artists and the audience to start a discussion based on their artwork. Racism and sexual identity are among the many topics that are expressed in these pieces of work. With relevance to both the US and China, the artists create pieces that incite debates on various aspects of society. "Artists challenge the audience to ask questions," Rose says. "As a result informal symposiums are created. They discuss what we can learn from Chinese transitions and interchangeably what the artists can learn from us."
Another unique aspect of this program is the collaboration with the Minneapolis Institute of Art and other liberal arts colleges in the area, including Carleton, St. Olaf, Macalester, the University of St. Thomas, and the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. Rose created the program in this way in order to create a consortium where the various institutions can share their findings and challenge each other with new questions.
This sharing of knowledge is the primary goal, Rose says. "Scholarship and education encourage inquiry. The exhibits are the stepping stones for the deeper conversation," he explains. "As a branch of the College of Liberal Arts, this program essentially provides us with a basic understanding of how we understand the world. The culmination of art and debate provides us with opportunities to leap from one idea and transpose it to another."