On February 4, David S. Areford (FSU MA Art History ’95), Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts Boston, hosted a panel discussion on “Perspectives on Empathy: Art, Religion, and Science” at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville. Joining Professor Areford were Scott Brown, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of North Florida; The Very Reverend Katherine B. Moorehead, Dean of St. John’s Cathedral and Dean of the Diocese of Florida; and Dan Richard, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of North Florida. The panel convened to discuss Professor Areford’s exhibition “The Art of Empathy: The Cummer Mother of Sorrows in Context,” on display at the Cummer until February 16. The exhibition showcases a masterwork in The Cummer’s permanent collection, Mother of Sorrows (c. 1470). It is one of only five known works by the Master of the Stötteritz Altar and was declared the “most important discovery in early German painting” by art historian Colin Eisler when it entered the collection in 1984.
Extending the exhibition’s themes, the panel explored various ways of understanding empathy and its formation from different perspectives, including visual culture, religion, and science. Central to recent discussions of empathy are several basic questions: Is empathy an innate biological response? Is it the very essence of what makes us human? Or, is empathy something that we learn? If so, how do we learn to be empathic? And in what ways does a society – its government, its religions, its artistic culture – foster empathy among its people?