The Lecture Project asks students important ethical questions in art

Professor Enrique Martinez Celaya hosted his second art history lecture Wednesday night at his art studio in Culver City. The lecture, which is a part of a series titled “The Lecture Project,” invites historians, writers and philosophers to discuss the connection between ethics and art. Curated by Celaya, the series is done in collaboration with USC to debate the responsibilities that art and criticism have in modern day society.  

“The lecture project idea comes partly because at the moment a lot of artists and art studios feel disconnected from the [art] conversation,” said Celaya, who is a Provost professor of arts and humanities at the Dornsife College for Arts and Sciences.

Wednesday night’s lecture, “Shaping and Controlling an Artistic Reputation: Edvard Munch’s Dilemma,” saw writer Elizabeth Prelinger discussing the reputation of Munch, after he painted his famous work, “The Scream.” Prelinger has written numerous book reviews and has lectured all throughout the world, including in countries such as France, the U.K. and Canada on subjects ranging from Abstraction to 19th and 20th century art. She is also a curator, having exhibitions at places such as Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art. She is also a professor of art history and modern art at Georgetown University.

Munch was a Norwegian painter, most known for his painting “The Scream” in 1893, which has since been seen to symbolize the anxiety and despair in man. Munch painted four versions of “The Scream;” one is currently on display at the National Gallery and two are at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. And the fourth was sold in a private auction for nearly $120 million dollars. Most of his artwork surrounded themes that were shocking for the time, including references depression and death.

Ultimately, it was his scandalous work and negative criticism that made him famous.

“His work [was] very popular and very sellable. Partially among very advanced German collectors,” Prelinger said. “Later in his career he became interested in lighter colors and brushwork. And he was interested in the French master Henri Matisse … There was a whole Norwegian … community in Paris but when the war started they had to go home.”

Munch’s later work was defined by landscapes and lighter colors, mostly holding more French influence, especially as the Nazi populations began to spread throughout Europe. Prelinger sought to discuss Munch’s later legacy after the war, especially since most of his work was banned in Germany, even though most of his artwork survived the time.

“[Munch sought to reference] his homeland during a time when war was being waged down south in Europe,” she said. “For Nazis, culture was important as a way of controlling society. They tried to control what was shown to the public or owner by museums.”

Munch was still a very famous successful artist both during after his time, and there were even a few secret Nazis who admired his work, writing letters on how beautifully Munch seemed to address life in his art. Preminger left the audience discussing the special place Munch found himself in: To have so much of his work be spared during a period in which the work of his peers was being sold and burned.

“‘The Lecture Project’ is to talk about the relationship between art and ethics which is not really addressed in most series that museums or galleries do or universities do,” Celaya said. “[Asking] what is your ethical position in relationship to your work, [and] how do you see that relationship occuring … I wanted to have a studio being not only a palace where you make art but where theses dialogues can occur.”