By Katy Shenk
Elm Staff Writer
Castles, cloisters, crosses, cathedrals—what do these aspects of medieval society have to do with our lives today?
Dr. Benjamin Tilghman, assistant professor of art history at Washington College, will address this topic in a lecture at the River Arts Gallery in Chestertown on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.
Just beginning his second semester at WC, Dr. Tilghman taught at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He is also an alumnus of Lawrence, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in art history in 1999.
“I majored in art history partly because I wanted to major in everything,” he said. “I’m interested in exploring religion, gender studies, history, and other topics through art.”
Although planning to specialize in contemporary 20th century art, Dr. Tilghman discovered an interest in medieval art while completing his distribution courses as an undergraduate.
In his graduate studies, Dr. Tilghman found himself procrastinating on his 20th century art papers to work on medieval art assignments, he said. This led him to pursue a PhD at Johns Hopkins University with a focus in medieval manuscripts.
Specifically, his research examines the “Book of Kells,” a ninth century manuscript created in either a British or Irish monastery.
“I enjoy examining writing, especially letters, as a visual art form,” he said.
Dr. Tilghman said he appreciates the opportunity to teach many different classes, like Islamic and Byzantine art history, and continues to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of art in his classes.
His lecture at the River Arts Gallery, located at 315 High St., is part of the gallery’s Creative Lives series.
“In our Creative Lives series we invite people from all walks of life to share their passions, wisdom, insights and philosophies with us,” said Andy Goddard, executive director of River Arts. “It is our belief that hearing about other creative journeys encourages us look at the world in new and different ways.”
“The Creative Lives series usually features artists and their journeys, and I’m not a practicing artist,” Dr. Tilghman said. “River Arts and I had to discuss what my feature would look like as an art history professor.”
In his discussion on medieval art, Dr. Tilghman will focus on how the questions raised by medieval artists compare to the questions we ask about the current issues troubling modern society.
In medieval society, they expressed concerns regarding the relationship between humans and the environment, racial and ethnic plurality, and how people understand God.
In many cases, the “medieval answers” are very different from our own, but Dr. Tilghman said he believes examining those answers helps us challenge our own assumptions about current issues.
Helping his students find the relevance in medieval art is part of Dr. Tilghman’s goal as a professor.
“Deciding how and what to teach my students is a moral choice,” he said. “I have to ask myself, how do I blend pedagogy with discussions about current issues?”
He believes examining medieval art is one way to achieve that blend.
“We are particularly looking forward to Professor Tilghman’s talk in shedding some light on an unfamiliar culture,” Goddard said. “We hope to see WC students and faculty here—all are welcome.”
Dr. Tilghman mentioned his appreciation for the vibrant arts community in Chestertown, and for organizations like River Arts who contribute to its strength.
“I want WC to continue to be a part of that community,” he said.