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Office Hours with Drew University’s Kim Rhodes

How art is connected to the natural world

July 2021 – This summer, we’re spending time in office hours with some of Drew University’s amazing faculty to learn about what interests and inspires them and their research.

Today, we’re talking with Kim Rhodes, NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Art History.

What’s something you find particularly interesting about your field?

The extent to which works of art are connected to the natural world, not simply through the representation of flora and fauna over the ages, but through materials, like pigments.

Tell us more.

I got hooked on the topic during a week-long seminar on technical art history at Yale a few years ago. There are lots of fun facts I’ve learned—the color red in art has often been made with dried and ground cochineal bugs and black was frequently made with the ash of burned deer antlers during the Renaissance. This information positions visual art as being a part of our ecosystem rather than something separate from it. It shows the interdependence of nature and culture during this critical time for our environment.

How do you bring this subject to Drew?

These topics came up in the course on color I taught with Jason Karolak, Assistant Professor of Art, this past spring. I’ve also recently been researching and publishing about the representation of deer from an ecocritical point of view, and will be teaching a course on animal studies in the fall that will include discussion of the bodies of deer—their meat, their antlers, their hide—and the materiality of art.

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