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Letter from the Chair

Dear students:

Works of art do not speak, or if so, only rarely and vicariously. Without using words, however, they communicate, and their message comes down to us in some cases from many, many centuries ago. Think of them as faraway stars that shine to us in the deep of the night, their light reaching us as a reflection of their past brilliance. Indeed, some of these brilliant stars may have ceased to exist millions of years ago, and they have certainly changed over this long stretch of time even if we are unable to ascertain their current configuration with our own eyes from earth, however enhanced our view might be as a result of technological advances. Unlike these stars, works of art are accessible to us in their actual form––fragmentary as this might be at times––their original message taking on new meaning as generations of beholders pass by.

Among the sciences and humanities, only art history will enable you to understand these works historically. During your years in our department, you will learn how to “read” an image: a very complex task because the visual often escapes the certainties of the verbal message, especially if the works of art you will be studying were produced in a time and space conspicuously different from yours. Interpreting a work of art, situating it within its historical context, investigating its meanings as perceived by different audiences over time and as conveyed in their actual encounters with us today are not the only skills you will learn here. As invaluable testimonies of our past and human ingenuity, works of art and artifacts need to be preserved with utmost care and intelligence. They need to be displayed so that they can ceaselessly spark the imagination, stimulate the mind, and fascinate the eyes of viewers, generation after generation. They need to be inventoried and examined for preservation. Without their survival and appropriate display, our present will be much poorer and our future deprived of depth and inspiration. Unique in its structure, our Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies (MCHS) program will train you to become an accomplished curator––in the term’s broadest sense of “taking care”––of works of art and artifacts. Here, you will also learn how to kindle a dialogue between them and new generations of viewers. Here you will ultimately learn how to make art central to contemporary debates on culture and society.

This is my first year at FSU. I came here from the UK, where I was teaching, because I was seduced by the Department of Art History, by its professors and staff, but most importantly by its students. I felt there was so much potential here I could contribute to develop. After the years of Professor Jolles’s excellent leadership, we have now the opportunity to take the department to the next frontiers––and yes, this is a reference to Star Trek. We indeed intend to expand and reshape our programs in ways that our students, both undergraduates and graduates, can be presented with the best of what our discipline can offer. Stay tuned.

I look forward to getting to know all of you.

Sincerely yours,

Lorenzo Pericolo