Art History in Motion: Dr. Amy Mooney

October 24, 2010 · Archives, Interviews

As promised, the art nerd in me comes out at different levels when discussing different topics. Amy Mooney, a professor at Columbia College Chicago, touches the heart of the art…

As promised, the art nerd in me comes out at different levels when discussing different topics. Amy Mooney, a professor at Columbia College Chicago, touches the heart of the art nerd in me with her research in the field of visual culture, art education and positive social contributions through art. Along with another thread in the Columbia College Chicago fabric, Joan Giroux, Amy Mooney will be serving as the chair of the panel “Artist Citizen: Catalysts, Collectives, and Utopias” on February 13th. Are you curious about why Prof. Mooney makes the art lover in me burst into song? The following questions I posed to her will bring you clarity…

Dr. Amy Mooney at the "Forget Me Not" Exhibition at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

Briefly tell me about yourself. What is your current role in the arts and how did you get there?
Currently, I am an associatiate professor of art history, theory, and visual culture at Columbia College. I am on sabbatical for 2009-2010 and have a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Portrait Gallery where I am researching my second book, Portraits of Noteworthy Character. Going way back, I got into art history through an arts career program for public school students at the St. Louis Art Museum. It was amazing, we met on Saturdays for a semester, investigating all the professional roles that contribute to a museum’s mission. SLAM’s pediment is inscribed with the words “Art has Truth. Seek Refuge There.” and I took that really literally. I also benefitted tremendously from my high school that required serious community service and offered courses in art history that were taught on site (galleries, public squares, museums, etc.). If we fast forward to an internship at the Chicago History Museum, I worked with a curator, Wim de Wit (now at the Getty) who helped me see how design affected human thought and behavior. Really, it’s these early experiences that led me to Columbia.

Is this your first College Arts Association Conference? If not, how many have you been to and how has it evolved over the years? If so, what do you expect from the conference?
No, this is not my first CAA–the first one was in 1997 where I gave a paper as a graduate student. I have attended the annual conference sporadically since then and my expectations change according to my intentions. When I have been on the job market, my focus differs than when I am hoping to share my current research projects or learn about the work of others artists and scholars.

What process did you go through to become a panelist and/or participant in the conference?
For this year, I collaborated with Joan Giroux working out some ideas that we are discussing for future classes. We prepared an abstract and submitted it to the national board members, who reviewed it and accepted it. We then requested panelists and were very excited to have international submissions.

What is the title and summary of the panel you are participating in? What is the topic you will be presenting? Who are some of the other panelists?
Artist Citizen: Catalysts, Collectives, and Utopias
Saturday, February 13, 2:30 PM–5:00 PM
Grand B, Gold Level, East Tower, Hyatt Regency Chicago

Chairs: Joan M. Giroux, Columbia College Chicago; Amy M. Mooney, Columbia College Chicago

Transitory Utopian Potential: Spontaneous Models for Creative Critical Communities
Gillian Whiteley, Loughborough University

Cause Collective: Creating a Dynamic Conversation between Issues, Sites, and the Public Audience
Jessica Ingram, California College of the Arts
Ryan Alexiev, Cause Collective

Food as Art as Sustainability Activism: The Politics of Agriculture and Food Systems in Twenty-First-Century Art Practices
Liena Vayzman, independent artist and curator, Oakland

Recording Change: Youth Dialogues on Progressive Efforts in Chicago
Jim Duignan, Stockyard Institute, DePaul University

Creative Fix: Looking to Artists for Change
Sheryl Oring, University of California, San Diego

What is the significance of your panel topic? How does it apply to college art students and the greater art community?
Joan and I are looking for a way to combine our dedicated interests in teaching, community service, and the practice of art. Art and activism has received a great deal of attention as of late–it’s certainly an expression of political dissent. I think that as educators, we need to introduce our students to the models of efficacy. I especially appreciate our department’s fostering of the synthesis of critical practice. So many of our current students are building an informed platform from which to make their work, be it an ad campaign, exhibition, or performance. For me, as an instructor, it is an inspiring synthesis that I hope will continue to expand.

How would you describe the work that you do?
I contribute to the field in three ways–I write critical analysis that considers the historic context of the production and reception of art. My monograph on Archibald J. Motley is an example of this and Portraits of Noteworthy Character will be this sort of product as well. I also engaged in the contemporary moment, offering insights on recent artist’s work and exhibitions. This kind of work appears in journals, interviews, and curatorial opportunities. Then, as a teacher, I focus on HOW we teach, not just the what. I am always experimenting with different approaches to learning, seeing what works best with students. My work with the Terra Foundation Teacher Lab has been tremendously influential. Here, I meet with Chicago Public School teachers and devise methods of using art to develop critical thinking skills. I have such a deep respect for their efforts and try to support their work.

What are some projects you are currently working on? How would our readers go about seeing this work (online, in person, etc.)?
Well certainly my book is all consuming right now. I anticipate a chapter of it coming out in a journal shortly and will let you know where and when. Most recently, I published an article on the construct of the “black” art exhibition in NKA, a contemporary international arts journal published by Cornell University. One of my favorite recent projects combined scholarship and teaching and is included in a film on artist/activist Amos Kennedy. It’s called “Proceed and Be Bold” by Laura Zinger. Laura and her production did such a good job bringing the social relevance of an artist’s work to light. There are sections where you see my African American art class compare and discuss the work of Kennedy to that of the Black Panther graphic artist Emory Douglas. They have amazing insights on the impact of these visual forms and how art can affect social change. For me, that’s what it’s all about.

What are some of the goals you have for yourself and your art career in 2010?
I have some great lecturing opportunities this year–at the David C. Driskell Center for African American Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, The Inuit Center, and the Nineteenth Century Club. Each will help me to get further along in my research and importantly, provide an opportunity for feedback. I hope to complete as much as possible on the book project. I also hope to follow up on the CAA panel with some writing or other artist/activist project. I also want to develop a curriculum guide for Proceed and Be Bold.

Where would you like to see the arts go in 2010?
More collaboration between practitioners and theorists, increased presence of women and minorities, increased funding for art production and education.

Lastly, what advice would you give college students who are thinking about a career in the arts similar to yours?
As my experience has developed in such a myriad of ways, it’s challenging to try to think of specific advice that does not ring trite. If you are considering grad school, I would recommend that you carefully research the instructors and institution, looking for professionals and programs that are actively engaged in the practice that appeals to you. Look to their lecture series, exhibitions, as well as their publications. If you can, meet them in person, see if they will make time for you. I would also recommend that you read and see as much as possible.

Learn more about the work of Chicago’s own Amy Mooney:
Motley book:

Article on Motley:

Amos Kennedy “Proceed and Be Bold”:

Article on Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons:

Curated exhibition on Ayanah Moor:

This interview is also published on the Columbia College Chicago CAA Blog.