Skip to main content

ACM Voices - Summer 2016

In the Summer 2016 issue of ACM Notes

Renaissance and Renascences

Guest columnist: Andrea Kann, Robert O. Daniel Associate Professor of Art, Coe College

Andrea Kann

Andrea Kann

Florence, Italy, is often called the birthplace of the Renaissance, the site where civilization was reborn during the 15th and 16th centuries.

As an art historian, I travel to Florence for both scholarship and enjoyment, yet the time I have spent in this fabled city on ACM initiatives has been particularly inspiring.

Three trips sponsored by ACM — the 2011 Florence faculty site visit, the 2013 SAIL Mediterranean Trivium seminar, and being the affiliated scholar for the Florence: Arts, Humanities, & Culture program in fall 2015 — have provided some of the most generative professional development opportunities of my career to date. Perhaps it's not surprising that the ACM has been my patron for many activities that reflect the Renaissance way of life, such as:

SAIL Coe College group in Florence

Andrea Kann with Coe College colleagues Martin St. Clair and Angela Ziskowski in Florence during the SAIL seminar.

Learning from the masters

During the Renaissance, traditional artistic training meant learning from the masters. Even Leonardo apprenticed with established master Andrea del Verrocchio before becoming the famed inventor, painter, and all around Renaissance man we still admire today.

Like the artists who came to Florence to learn more about their craft, I also learned from the masters. SAIL, the site visit, and my time as the affiliated scholar offered me multiple opportunities to interact with master teachers like Jodie Mariotti (director of the ACM Florence program) and the other ACM professors who were visiting the city. I've seen the spectacular panoramic view of Florence from the steps of San Miniato al Monte many times, but I saw it anew as I watched Jodie present the historic city to our students on one of their very first days.

How often do we witness our colleagues working on site with students, explaining the mysteries of art, archaeology, history, or science? Seeing great teachers connect with students is not only instructional, it also is inspirational.

"The ACM is like a Renaissance patron, facilitating learning and understanding among colleagues from many different disciplines and institutions"

Conversing at the banquet

In the Renaissance, sharing food was a traditional way of creating and sustaining community. Just as Renaissance artists and community members gathered over a table groaning with edible delights to discuss the latest innovations, events, and politics, so do members of an ACM team on a visit to Florence.

Indeed, every time the SAIL group or site visitors sat down to a meal, the conversation turned to a variety of topics from scholarly subjects to pedagogical techniques to sites we visited together. I've developed many a class exercise, shared unit, or new course concept over a glass of prosecco or some pasta with my ACM colleagues.

Risk taking and failure

Michelangelo carved his famous David from a flawed block of marble set aside by another sculptor. Yet Michelangelo and many of his fellow artists also had projects they never completed, and others that just plain didn't work.

Passerby with selfie stick

More captivating than an on-site lecture by Andrea Kann? A passerby with his selfie stick in Florence.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Buckles

It's refreshing to remember that failure or missteps are part of any engagement with teaching, learning, and scholarship. At least that's what I told myself when a street vendor derailed class by trying to sell the students selfie sticks during an on-site visit. Or the time on the Ponte Vecchio when I myself lost track of our discussion of the Nazi destruction of Florence because we saw a Tibetan monk using one of those selfie sticks as he walked by us weighed down with shopping bags.


Arguably, perspective was invented in the city of Florence, so what better place to consider the world from more than one viewpoint? ACM programs allowed me to experience and share a variety of perspectives from a number of disciplinary and institutional points of view.

Seeing geologists, historians, chemists, and archaeologists respond to sites I previously had only viewed through the prism of art history was invaluable in helping me develop a clearer picture of my own teaching and research.

Whether I was climbing high atop a scaffold in Santa Croce to see the newly restored 14th-century frescoes or standing with my colleagues below the vastness of Brunelleschi's famous dome, I began to see a familiar city through new eyes. Now I have become better at presenting these sites to more diverse audiences. I also can more effectively contextualize these monuments in their past, present, and restored states to consider what has been preserved, how, and why.

Change and transformation

Renaissance artists characterized themselves as more than craftsmen — they were scholars, too, with wide knowledge of liberal arts subjects beyond their specific craft. The term “Renaissance men” was later coined to describe these broadly well-educated individuals who engaged with others through writing, debate, conversation, and performance.

The ACM is like a Renaissance patron, facilitating learning and understanding among colleagues from many different disciplines and institutions. With all of the opportunities the ACM offers, becoming a Renaissance person may be closer than you think!

<Return to the Summer 2016 ACM Notes>

This column was written for the Summer 2016 issue of the ACM Notes newsletter for faculty and administrators.

Copyright 2016