Instructor of Art and Art History Jennifer Longshore (by Rory N. Finney)
When she’s not encouraging people to slow down and study art by helping to lead the international Slow Art movement, Jennifer Longshore is racing through activities such as biking, hiking, snowboarding, and scuba diving. Although traditionally an art historian, she has spent the past decade honing her drawing skills through the local Pomegranate Group of women artists. Longshore earned her master of arts in art history from the University of California, Davis, and her self-designed bachelor of arts in art history and humanities from California State University (CSU), Fresno. While her master’s thesis focused on nineteenth century artist Mary Cassatt, her greatest passion is for the modern and postmodern art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Longshore integrates community-based learning activities into courses such as Activist Artists and Work in the Community, where students create artistic projects for local nonprofit organizations and social causes. Like her students, she is actively engaged in the community, serving as curator for Bellview Elementary School and a member of the Aesthetics Advisory Council for bridge reconstruction at I-5 Exits 14 and 19. Since 2002, she has served as city commissioner for the Ashland Public Arts Commission. Longshore secured a grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition that enabled the City of Ashland to commission artists to paint utility boxes around town.
Previously, Longshore was a board member and chair of the Art Advisory Board at CSU, Fresno, and she has also served on the Schneider Children’s Center’s Child Care Advisory Committee. Longshore has volunteered at such organizations as the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art in San Diego, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, and the Fresno Art Museum.
Her visits to nearly fifty museums, galleries, and architectural sites around the world include Spain’s El Prado, National Museum Reina Sofia, and Picasso Museum; the United Kingdom’s British Museum, National Gallery, and Victoria and Albert Museum; India’s New Delhi, Jaipur, and Kolkata; France’s Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay; Italy’s Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Gallerie dell’Accedemia; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and Guggenheim Museum; San Francisco’s SFMoMA, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, and Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Pacific Northwest’s Portland Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum.
Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels on July 1, 2010
JL: Yes, people always assume I’m an artist, but actually I did not study studio art. My first degree was an interdisciplinary degree I created at Fresno State because they didn’t have art history as a degree. It was a combination of humanities, philosophy, and art history courses. I fell in love with art history partly because I fell in love with the way the professor taught, and I loved looking at visual culture through the eyes of science, sociology, and history. I wanted to get further into it, so I went on to get a master’s in art history.
The studio art part has come along. Now, I actually draw with a women’s group called the Pomegranate Group. We do figure drawing together. We pose for each other, and it’s a cooperative, wonderful, safe place to draw and discuss your work. Everyone else there is a professional artist but me. It’s very fun. I’ve learned to go from a very remedial type of drawing method to actually figuring it out by watching them and learning every week. So it’s my way of entering into the studio side of art, which has definitely been different, and I love to explore it.
MM: It’s brave of you to take that. When you’re a child, it’s easy to just draw, but as an adult, it’s totally different. Especially for someone who’s aware of art history—when you have that consciousness haunting you as you’re attempting to do it yourself. To have to try and shed that—
JL: The first time I was with this figure drawing group—I practically drew stick figures. (laughs) And now, I can actually draw the form and apply some three-dimensional quality. It just took practice. It is all about doing it over and over again. It’s fun. It’s a great group of women, and it has ebbed and flowed through my last ten years of being here.
Watercolors painted by Longshore in the Pomegranate Group (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: That’s an intriguing title: The Pomegranate Group. Where does that come from?
JL: This group has been around for quite a while—at least fifteen years. The name comes from reflecting on the pomegranate and its seeds of life, the story of Eve, and just relating it to fertility and life in general. It’s also a really beautiful piece of fruit and a beautiful seed to draw.
MM: Yes, very complex. Deceptively so, since it appears so simple on the outside.
JL: It’s a complex form, much like figure drawing is a complex endeavor.
With one of the student Activist Art projects in SOU’s Thorndike Gallery (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Getting back to activist art, I actually just came across this quote by Adrienne Rich: “The moment of change is the only poem.” That struck me as especially appropriate for the subject of activist art. How do you describe activist art to your students when you’re teaching it as a course? For people who are coming in with preconceived notions and prejudices about it, how do you address that?
JL: It can be a challenge. The course is actually an upper division Integration course. It serves juniors and seniors from all over campus. So not everyone in the class is an art major. I have everyone from biology to criminology majors. It’s a mixed bag of people, and when they come in, my art majors may be expecting something very different than the others, so we have to meld their expectations together.
When we first think about activist art, I do have a few people who assume that this course is all about politics. So the first thing I try to dispel or discuss is that it doesn’t necessarily need to be. The course might deal with forms of political activism, but I also like to integrate civic engagement and community involvement into the big picture. For instance, you can simultaneously create art while creating change for a community. Art can teach a community how to be literate or about birth control. It can reach out to those who are in need, whether it be about homelessness or about the urgency for a clean needle exchange program. In class we discuss ways to be creative through visual art, poetry, theatre, and music to bring forth change or send a message.
The course’s title has recently been changed to Activist Artists and Work in the Community. I think this new title helps to broaden the perspective of the course.
At the beginning of the quarter, we do a lot of activities and ice-breakers related to understanding one’s identity and developing trust. A really interesting part of the course for me is helping students realize we each identify with different groups and philosophies. When working with a group or community, you may not share the same experiences and ideals that they do. I ask them, “How can one assist a group when they come from the outside?” The solution is through being open-minded and developing trust with the individual or community you are working with. You have to build a bridge of trust.
MM: So you’re teaching empathy and cultural sensitivity.
JL: Absolutely. In the final weeks of the course, they also experience this firsthand when they work with a community agency to create an activist art project.
Examples of student projects from the Activist Art course (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: Can you give some examples?
JL: Sure. Not only did four Activist Art students volunteer at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and Uncle Foods Diner, but they also hosted a benefit art auction and panel discussion on the topic of hunger and homelessness. Mayor John Stromberg joined homeless advocates and other city officials in an open dialogue about these issues and how they affect our community. The benefit auction collected over $400 for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.
Hearts with a Mission is a new youth shelter located at 521 Edwards Street in West Medford. It provides temporary emergency shelter for children between the ages of ten and seventeen. Two students from the Activist Art class worked with teens at the shelter to make a wall mural for their newly constructed home. Beyond the splats of paint and colorful handprints, you could see the smiles of these kids as they expressed themselves through this art project. The mural now hangs proudly in the entryway of the home.
Six students teamed up with KS Wild to create postcards and flyers that educate the public about the Oregon Treasures Act. This is a bill that would designate new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River areas on the Rogue River. The student team spent an entire day on the Rogue River creating and photographing environmental sculptures and installations to be used in their flyers and postcards. The students have collected hundreds of signed postcards to be sent to the Oregon legislature as testimony to the growing concern over the preservation of this treasured Oregon landmark.
Four students teamed up with SOU’s Queer Resource Center to implement an art project exploring how each of us interprets our own gender and sexuality. Student clubs and individuals were asked to decorate large boxes with images and words that best described their sexuality or gender. The boxes were then displayed in two venues: SOU’s Stevenson Union and Ashland’s Downtown Plaza. In both instances, the boxes opened up a dialogue about gender and sexual identity with the student team and passersby. Visitors were also encouraged to write down their own feelings about gender and sexuality and then attach these drawings and notes to the boxes. This is a project that could easily transfer into a classroom or other group setting.
MM: That’s wonderful. Your students must feel incredible gratification after they complete a project like this.
JL: I think so. I hope so. Many seem happy about the end product. It’s my hope that they get something different from this course. My goal is to get them out of a classroom. It’s good for a student to get out of the classroom and into the real world. A student might say, “You mean you really want me to go read to these four-year-olds and six-year-olds and do a project?—cool!”
Here is another project I’d like to mention: four Activist Art students teamed up with Judith McBride’s third-grade class at Willow Winds CLC to learn and reflect upon water conservation. A lesson was presented to the third-graders and then each child painted a tile in response to what they learned. The tiles were then fired and returned to the students so that they could share their project with their families.
Bellview Elementary gallery (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: It’s a really stimulating environment—so colorful and creative. Going back to activist art, I remembered this morning about a Bertolt Brecht quote I’d come across several years ago about the “Five Difficulties of Writing The Truth.” Hans Haacke quotes this in his essay “All the Art That’s Fit to Show.” I was just going to read you this, and maybe you can think about how they relate to activist art.
JL: That’s really good. I discuss Bertolt Brecht in my Activist Art course. I talk about his play Mother Courage. I admire artists who can expose a truth that is often hidden. They can open our minds when we least expect it. I show some of Haacke’s work in my Art Theory and Critical Issues course. It is so important to come to terms with how art is interpreted and how it can be a proponent for social change and intellectual discussion.
Covers for Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy and Robert Hughes’s Shock of the New: The Hundred Year History of Modern Art—Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall (courtesy of Amazon)
MM: That makes me think of Dave Hickey, have you read him? Air Guitar?
JL: No, I haven’t.
MM: He’s one of the most poetic art critics. Well, poetic and also very ordinary. I think he’s practiced art in the past, but he writes really eloquently and humorously about the art world, and just various jazz-type riffs on all kinds of different art.
JL: I’ll have to check him out.
MM: Who are some of your favorite critics?
JL: I really like bell hooks. Her scholarship on feminism, racial issues, and otherness meld so well with topics in popular culture. I also enjoy Griselda Pollock, Linda Nochlin, Lucy Lippard, and Martha Rosler.
MM: I always think of Robert Hughes first. But he’s an interesting one.
JL: I really enjoy his film series titled American Visions. It is a terrific analysis of American Art and Culture.
Three generations of women in front of the Eiffel Tower (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: So you’re getting ready to go to Europe. Can you talk a little bit about what your plans are for that trip?
JL: My mom is taking my daughter, sister-in-law, and me to Paris and London. It will be a thrilling girls trip. Although I have been to both of these cities, I can never get enough of them. There is so much art and culture. We will see all the usual sites and of course explore many museums. I am also excited to travel to the French countryside to visit Monet’s home and garden.
Jennifer and family abroad (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: Is your daughter interested in art?
JL: Yes—it is fun to see her interest and curiosity blossom over time. Terry and I went to Spain for about a month three years ago, when she was in sixth grade. We spent a month in Madrid and traveled to various cities like Barcelona, Seville, Toledo, and Córdoba. We dragged her and her little brother into every cathedral and many museums. Even though she hemmed and hawed after seeing yet “another Gothic cathedral,” now she’s begging to go back. So I think it’s deep-seated. She doesn’t think she’s an artist, but she draws very meticulously. Art is in her, but she doesn’t know her potential. It’s funny, Terry is a musician and I’m an art historian, and my kids are jocks. So I don’t know what happened there! But she definitely has a creative side.
MM: Do your kids study musical instruments?
JL: They do. They aren’t just jocks—they’re pretty well-rounded. They’ve both studied piano, and my daughter plays trumpet now. My son has taken some drum lessons, but he is expressing interest in playing the saxophone. So we’re looking into that.
MM: So when he gets old enough he can join SOU’s Siskiyou Saxophone Orchestra.
JL: Exactly! If he chooses.
Associate Professor of Music and Director of Percussion Studies Terry Longshore (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Speaking of Terry, do you ever collaborate on creative projects together?
JL: That’s a great question. We have a class we created together called Art and Music of the Twentieth Century. We used to teach it at SOU, but now its being offered as an online course, and it works very nicely. It was very fun to collaborate together and think about how to meld ideas and theories abut art and music of the twentieth century.
We haven’t done many other collaborations, but I am sure we will in the future. Perhaps someday I will do something musically with him. I used to sing a long time ago. But who knows when I will pick that up again. As far as collaborating, I know Terry would love it if I learned how to Flamenco dance. He keeps saying, “Are you going to take lessons?” (laughs) So I’ll add it to my list of todos. We do love to talk about art, music, film, and popular culture. We do a lot of talking after the kids go to bed. We both share a love for art—in any form.
MM: And parenting is probably the greatest creative collaboration.
JL: It is. It’s definitely crazy and a lot of fun.
MM: What did you discover about Mary Cassatt and her work when you wrote your master’s thesis?
JL: Mary Cassatt was a young woman who studied art in America and then moved to Paris. She lived in France for the rest of her life. Many of her family members joined her there. She never married and never had children. She showed her work and collaborated with the French Impressionists. I became intrigued by this woman who had navigated herself in and out of domestic spaces as well as the public/masculine realm of the nineteenth century. She infiltrated the French art system and also befriended—maybe romantically, maybe not—Degas.
I was curious about the subjects she portrayed—since she wasn’t actually a mother or married—and why she focused so heavily on those subjects. Obviously, one reason for these domestic subjects is because she was relegated to the domestic sphere, as women were at that time. I started to look at her works in this context more and more. She was commissioned to do a large mural for an 1893 exposition in Chicago, and it was called “Modern Woman.” It’s long since been destroyed. Many of the expositions and worlds fairs are constructed for temporary use, so when they destroy these buildings, they simultaneously destroy any artwork attached to the walls. Cassatt’s contribution was a large-scale wall mural, which is now lost to humanity. We just have pictures and personal accounts to study. “Modern Woman” depicted women in an orchard picking fruit and holding their children. Flying in the air above them were allegorical figures associated with fame, talent, and academics. In theory, one could assume these women could be reaching for the fruits of knowledge or fame. However, many people criticized Cassatt’s work for failing to illustrate modernity in the late nineteenth century. When I researched this—very little was written about it and my goal was to better understand Cassatt’s views on the modern woman in late nineteenth century society. Today, there are many positive interpretations and theories about Cassatt’s “Modern Woman.”
While doing this research in the late 1990s, I began to look at her works in a general light and found them to be wonderfully subversive. If you read Griselda Pollock, she talks about how the women in Cassatt’s works avert their eyes from the viewer and how they refuse to accept the patriarchal gaze. There’s always a barricade between the viewer and the woman being posed. I started to play with the notion of Cassatt’s subversive domestics and how she manipulated the domestic setting to better suit her female subjects. It was interesting and fun. It was a great topic.
Edgar Degas’s portraits of laundresses in the late nineteenth century (courtesy of Wikipedia)
MM: That makes me think of Eavan Boland’s work. Have you read any of her poetry or prose?
JL: Tell me about it.
MM: She’s an Irish poet, and she also has a collection of essays called Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. But what I thought of when you were talking was her poem “Degas’s Laundresses.” It’s more from the perspective of the laundresses. You feel the ominous presence of this voyeuristic painter, and the closing lines is, “It’s your winding sheet.” It’s pretty haunting. I think you would really appreciate her work, especially because she deals a lot with issues of domesticity. In fact, one of her collections is called Domestic Interior.
JL: Have you ever read Charlotte Perkins Gilman?
JL: I have always been haunted by her story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In it, a young wife and mother is driven to madness by a psychiatric therapy prescribed by her husband. Gilman’s short story is critiquing the various therapies leading to the mental ruin and suicide of numerous nineteenth century women.
MM: I remember now! I read that story so many years ago, I’d forgotten her name.
MM: Getting into this issue of art and feminism, how do you feel art has advanced the cause of feminism—if it has—and how do you think feminism has influenced art?
JL: It’s interesting to think about what was happening in the late sixties and seventies and how those early feminist artists were making bold statements and instilling changes that have become so important to visual culture. Their actions have allowed women and “others” to have a voice in today’s art world. The Guerilla Girls are a great example of a group of artists in the eighties who really made a big waves by protesting and making it known that women artists weren’t being shown in museums and galleries. Their tactics were very effective, but at the same time, artworks by women still weren’t being purchased by major museums. Slowly, things have changed for the better for women in the art world, but I don’t think it is hunky-dory. There is always room for improvement.
Feminism has so many facets—from critiquing women’s equality to critiquing how women are represented in art. Recently, I read some books on the history and evolution of the pin-up girl. The authors suggest that artists today can use the female form to empower women rather than to strictly associate images of women as representing man’s domination over woman. This has led me to the art of Lisa Yuskavage. Her works grossly exaggerate the female form. She is commenting on society’s need to change our bodies through surgery and diets and media’s overbearing definition of beauty.
I’d say feminism has really expanded the dialogue of “the other” as well. Discussions about ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality have all emerged from a feminist perspective.
Paging through an art history book (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: It’s interesting to think about Marxism as well and the influence that had on art. In a way, it’s much more passé now than feminism is. Feminism continues to blossom, so I wonder if Marxism had a shelf life, or if it just continues to evolve in other ways.
JL: Actually, I notice that some of my younger female students are shelving feminism as if there is no longer a need for a discussion on equality. Little do they know, the dialogue is far from over. They are wearing pants thanks to the feminists. I like to push them into thinking about feminism, Marxism, as well as concepts surrounding the topic of privilege.
MM: You also teach a Race, Gender, and Ethnicity course.
JL: Yes—I have taught Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Art. I haven’t taught the course for a few years however. Whiteness studies and the concepts of privilege are some of the many topics I cover in the course.
MM: And do you get resistance to that?
JL: It is interesting. Discussions about feminism, privilege, racism, and equality will vary from year to year. Some students will be very well-informed and open-minded, but I still have students who can’t acknowledge their privilege or position in our socially constructed society. I enjoy the challenge and then the “aha moment” when they start to understand.
Longshores in Guanajuato, Mexico (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: Tell me how your international travels have informed your teaching.
JL: I have travelled to Europe, Mexico, Canada, and India. I think traveling to new places and being exposed to various cultures, belief systems, and economic situations brings enormous perspective to our lives.
MM: It seems like you’re getting your students to experience a degree of that perspective and empathy by working with the local community and seeing the needs within our own region.
JL: Activist Art is a perfect course to explore these principles. I also teach and discuss art of other cultures in my art history survey classes—not just Western art.
MM: I hadn’t even thought about the inherent prejudice in the term itself, “non-Western art.” The antithesis to the predominant culture.
JL: Yes, this is always a good topic of discussion.
MM: On a totally different note, I heard that you recently became scuba-certified.
JL: My daughter and I recently completed the course. We did our checkout dives in Applegate Lake. It will be fun to explore rivers and lakes in our region, and now, if I’m ever in a great place to dive, I can just do it. It was great experience. My daughter was a natural. She was textbook. It was a little more scary for me, but I did it!
JL: It was my big summer accomplishment!
The newest member of the Longshore family (courtesy of Jennifer Longshore)
MM: It seems you’re pretty active in general. You do bicycling and some other activities, too, right?
JL: Yes, I like bicycling, but I have been walking a lot lately with our new puppy. We have a ten-month-old Golden Retriever, and he keeps me going. We walk into the hills every day. We also love to snowboard, mountain bike, hike, and camp.
MM: It’s one of the nice things about living here.
JL: I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
MM: Talking about walking makes me think of Thoreau and the contemplative act within that process.
JL: Yes. Definitely. It’s a good time to slow down. I love it.
MM: Do some of your ideas for teaching come to you while you’re doing that?
JL: All the time. Terry and I have some of our best discussions about work on our walks. We are able to clear our minds and make room for new ideas and perspectives.
In the Center for the Visual Arts complex (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: Can you think of any epiphanies that occurred in your classes? Anything that stands out in your experience and makes you feel like, “This is why I teach, this is what keeps me inspired”?
JL: I always have wonderful experiences with nontraditional students. Typically, women who have maybe had a really tough life or who are coming back after raising their kids or who are divorced, raising their kids, and returning to school. They come in here, and they are so eager to learn. They’re just like sponges, and they love it. In the end, I see them go off into the world and blossom. It is really satisfying. I always love to hear what they are doing once they are out of school and see that they’ve followed their dreams, even though I know it was a really tough thing to do.
Although it’s a hard class to teach, I also love Art Theory and Critical Issues because of its challenge. Students come into the class moaning and groaning at the beginning of the quarter. By the end, they are saying, “I’m so glad I took that class, and now I wish I had taken it two years ago.” Learning postmodern theories like Marxism, feminism, and semiotics can be hard, but it is fun when they can see the value in it.
MM: I realized I asked you about some of your favorite critics, but I haven’t asked you about some of your favorite artists.
JL: Oh goodness, that’s always a hard one to answer. There are so many. I must say I’m a sucker for the twentieth century. After I did my research on Mary Cassatt, I became interested in artists in the early years of the twentieth century. I think Picasso is pretty amazing as well as Joan Miro. I have enjoyed seeing huge Pollocks, Motherwells, and Rothkos hanging on the walls of mansions in Southern California. Seeing abstract expressionist work in person is inspiring. I also love postmodern concepts and how artists have honed in on this free-for-all era. Duchamp was a genius. Even Manzoni’s “Artist’s Shit” intrigues me.
MM: I’m with you on the twentieth century. I’m partial to the abstract expressionists.
JL: It’s hard to get people to really understand the power of art until they see it in person. There are great museums in Portland and San Francisco, and I encourage my students to get to them. As an example, a Lichtenstein might look like a comic strip, but when you see it in person, it’s a whole new work full of amazing concepts.
MM: You brought up postmodernism, and I can’t remember where I read it, but somebody was talking recently about how postmodernism is now in its final stages, and something else is coming, whatever that may be. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on what will be post-postmodernism.
JL: The students always ask, “What art era are we in right now?” All I can say is we don’t know. What will our current time period be considered 200 years from now? It is a curious question. Postmodern perspectives are still prevalent, but our digital and global world has begun to shift art and culture tremendously. I also believe the arguments about the “original” and “the death of the artist” play an interesting role in the future of art.
Schneider Museum of Art (SMA) exhibition visitors (by Brian Prechtel)
MM: What is the Slow Art movement?
JL: That’s a good question. This is a new thing that’s happening worldwide. In Ashland this year, we hosted two Slow Art events at the Schneider Museum of Art. The concept of this movement is literally to encourage people to slow down when looking at art. In our day and age, people go into museums and spend two seconds looking at each work. When you spend more time looking at the art, you start to notice things you would never see otherwise. These “events” take place simultaneously at museums around the nation and world. Its great to know that thousands of others are looking at art slowly just like yourself. Furthermore, the dialogue between participants is terrific. You can learn more about the Slow Art Movement on Facebook.
(left to right) Wood sculptures and installations by Scott Trimble, Allison Saar, and Mike Rathbun in the Disparate Spirits exhibit (courtesy of Schneider Museum of Art)
MM: What works did you guys study at the Schneider Museum?
JL: The most recent Slow Art Event took place last April when there were some very interesting sculptural wood installations in the SMA. The works were so large you could literally wander through them. They made for some interesting conversations.
MM: Makes me think of labyrinths and the movement to create labyrinths around the world. It seems a necessity in this age. We’re all constantly rushing. We have to create mechanisms to force ourselves to slow down!
JL: It’s sad. Even I admit to being too fast. When I went to my first Slow Art Event, I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I’m seeing things I’ve never seen.” It was good for me. And I’m already spending more time studying art than the average person! We’ve got to bring more people to the museum to experience this. Although it may be hard, I am up for the challenge.