Professor Nikki Greene Talks About the Power of Art in Op-Ed and as Guest on WGBH

January 6, 2017
Professor Nikki Greene Talks About the Power of Art in Op-Ed and as Guest on WGBH

Nikki Greene, assistant professor of art at Wellesley, has been spreading the word about the power of art—and about how to teach art history to a new generation of students. Greene’s op-ed “Beyond Mona Lisa Smile: Art, Race and Social Media On Campus,” appears today on WBUR’s Edify website. Last month, Greene was a guest on WGBH’s Basic Black, with host Callie Crossley ’73, where she spoke about the changing role of African-American art in the art world, throughout history, and in individual’s lives.

In her op-ed, Greene discusses the “responsibility I have to my students, in particular to ensure that neither their ethnic background nor their bank account” prevent them from studying art history. She explains how this informs her teaching, specifically her decision to integrate social media into her instruction: “When students understand the power of social media to have a real-world impact, their attention spans lengthen in order to capture the bigger picture.” Greene also emphasizes the impact teaching art history in new and different ways can have on students, including “students of color, LGBTQ students and other underrepresented groups who often feel left out of the conversation because they rarely see themselves reflected in ‘art.’” She writes, “When our young people place themselves—and see themselves—within the spaces where the canon is defined—where Mona Lisa reigns—then they will struggle less to find their place wherever they are in the academy.”

“My students’ flexibility to allow me to experiment in the classroom makes teaching a joy,” said Greene in an email interview. With support from the Mellon Blended Learning Grant, Greene used Periscope, a live-streaming application, for the first time last spring to complement her instruction. Diksha Gupta ’16, a student in her course The Body: Race and Gender in Modern and Contemporary Art, used the app to broadcast her drawing process in real-time to a potentially global audience. Gupta told Greene that using the tool was “a critical medium of representation” for her. “By providing an unknown, yet interactive, audience, an opportunity for validation and critique, Periscope was an essential tool in developing my confidence in performance, as well as the greater artistic concept,” Gupta said. Gupta is currently pursuing a master’s degree in contemporary art theory at Goldsmiths, University of London.

As a guest on Basic Black, Greene discussed African-American art from a historian’s perspective and how art can reflect so much about African-American culture. Greene’s advice to those who want to learn about African-American artists? “Practice looking,” she said, and start with shows at local colleges and universities.

Watch Greene on WGBH’s Basic Black.