Teaching Awards 2006
Dolan weaves rich fabric
for art history students
Sit in on one of art history professor Therese Dolan’s undergraduate survey courses on “Impressionism and Post-Impressionism” and be prepared to learn about a lot more than 19th-century art.
In a recent class covering the Symbolist movement, she touched on Mallarme, Huysmans, Mark Twain, Wagnerian opera (“like Brussels sprouts, an acquired taste”) and an essay on same by Baudelaire, read from Virgil’s Aeneid and from Proust, and referred to the class’s upcoming field trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan in New York.
And that was just in the first 15 minutes.
Dolan herself acknowledges her own deep-rooted drive to learn accompanied by a passion for teaching. At age 4, she ran away — to school, following her older sister to her kindergarten class “because I wanted to be in school and learn new things.”
The results of a Kuder Preference Test she took in high school suggested she was best suited for a career as a standup comedian, and while her lectures are peppered with humor, she cannot remember ever wanting to do anything but teach.
Her first job out of college was as a secretary at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where she quickly recognized her limitations as a typist. “When I typed ‘scared scriptures’ instead of ‘sacred,’ I didn’t think that would be a good career path,” she quipped.
The opportunity to work as a governess in Rome for a year opened her eyes to the worlds of both art and history.
“I taught myself Rome, took Italian classes and traveled all over Europe,” she recalled. “I was hooked. When I came back, I began studying art history at Bryn Mawr.”
She earned both her master’s and doctoral degrees and joined the art history faculty at Temple’s Tyler School of Art in 1981.
And the rest, as they say, is (art) history.
“She is a passionate and innovative scholar … a dedicated teacher and an incredibly engaging communicator [who] brings the study of art alive for her students,” wrote a former student and colleague. “She pushes her students to move beyond reactionary opinion and become independent thinkers.”
“I loved learning from Dr. Dolan and I wanted to work harder because of that fact,” wrote another.
“Wow! Dr. Dolan, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a class more and have learned so much!” an undergraduate enthused. “For the first time, I am leaving a class with a thirst to learn much more about this topic. I’ve learned how to use different library resources available to me, to think more independently and analyze works of art with less timidity at expressing my own opinions.”
Even after decades at the front of a classroom, she confesses to still feeling nervous before every lecture. “The truth is I barely sleep at all the night before the first day of the new semester. I’m that anxious to teach and learn. And do my best.”
And clearly, she has. On April 11, Dolan will receive a 2006 Great Teacher Award.
“I love watching students grow intellectually. And I truly like teaching entry-level, introductory courses, so I can enable students to see the potentials of art and of history and share my enthusiasm for the subject matter.”
Her enthusiasm has proved infectious for scores of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as alumni who have enjoyed her museum talks through the Temple On the Road program.
She sets the standard for the thirst for learning that she nurtures in others. While researching for her own book on Manet and Music, she spent weeks in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, poring over microfilms of 19th-century periodicals from morning to night for art and music reviews. Her constant presence at the library prompted the staff to begin making the closing announcements in English as well as French.
She’s fortunate, she said, that she has never had to look back on her decision to pursue a teaching career.
“The first question on that Kuder Preference Test in high school was ‘Which would you prefer to do? 1) Read a book, 2) Listen to music or 3) Visit an art museum’ and I puzzled over my response because I wanted to do all three. Teaching has been the perfect profession that has allowed me to do all of them.
“And teaching art history, I get to teach in the dark, so if I spill my coffee on my blouse right before class or have a bad hair day, only I know it!”
Seems she still has a talent for standup comedy as well.
— Harriet Goodheart