Jonathan Fineberg named University of Nebraska Presidential Professor

July 1, 2012

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken has announced the appointment of renowned scholar, curator and author Jonathan Fineberg as NU’s next Visiting Presidential Professor. Fineberg’s appointment will span the 2012-13 academic year and will include four weeklong visits, beginning this September, to the University of Nebraska. During each visit Fineberg will present public lectures, to be published as a book following his professorship, and participate in other activities with the university and Lincoln and Omaha communities.

Fineberg is the Gutgsell Professor of Art History Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and adjunct curator of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y. His work, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, 3rd Edition, is used extensively as a textbook for modern art history classes in universities around the country. He joins former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, who has served as NU Presidential Professor since 2005, and internationally known artist Enrique Martinez Celaya, who served as Visiting Presidential Professor from 2007 to 2010.

“Presidential Professors serve as public scholars who enrich the cultural and educational life of the university and the state,” Milliken said. “We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scholar of Jonathan Fineberg’s caliber partner with the University of Nebraska for the coming year. His visits to our campuses and communities will create unique educational, research and creative opportunities for our students, faculty and Nebraskans. I look forward to an exciting and productive venture.”

Fineberg will visit the university twice during the fall semester and twice in the spring. In addition to his illustrated public lectures in Lincoln and Omaha, his visits will include lectures in advanced-level seminars in art history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also will spend time in the studio with art students at UNL and potentially at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Given his interest in psychoanalysis, Fineberg also is exploring opportunities to work with researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to test hypotheses he has proposed about the relationship between art and the brain.

Following his professorship, Fineberg will write his formal lectures as a book, which will be published as the University of Nebraska Presidential Lectures.

Fineberg said, “With this visiting professorship at the University of Nebraska, President Milliken has given me the opportunity to find my feet between the chairs of several disciplines and write something I’ve long wanted to write about why a society needs works of art and how visual thinking affects our creativity and perhaps the very structure of our minds. I’m excited to be able to investigate the problems and build a sustained argument over four lectures and I look forward, in the process, to learning from students and faculty at the University in art, art history and in neuroscience.”

In addition, Fineberg’s wife, Marianne Malone, an artist and author of The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Stealing Magic, and The Pirate’s Coin (due from Random House in 2013), is exploring opportunities to work with students in the university’s writing programs and with young readers in area schools.

Lecture Series Details

Fineberg’s first visit to NU will be Sept. 10-15. Information about his lecture series follows; more details will be released in advance of each lecture.

The Origin of the Image: What Modern Art Tells Us About the Mind: lecture 1
“Motherwell’s Mother: An Iconography in Abstraction”
Sept. 11 – Sheldon Art Museum, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 – KANEKO, 6:30 p.m.
This lecture will focus on the work of Robert Motherwell and attempt to demonstrate a detailed iconography in his abstract art, showing that abstract form can carry significant and specific meaning.

The Origin of the Image: What Modern Art Tells Us About the Mind: lecture 2
“The Ineffable, the Unspeakable, and the Inspirational: A Grammar”
Oct. 30 – Sheldon Art Museum, 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 – KANEKO, 6:30 p.m.
This lecture will attempt to hypothesize a grammar for unconscious thought in form, centered on the example of the non-verbal exchange between Calder and Miró through their materials.

The Origin of the Image: What Modern Art Tells Us About the Mind: lecture 3 “The Nature Theater: Art and Politics”
March 12, 2013 – Sheldon Art Museum, 5:30 p.m.
March 13, 2013 – KANEKO, 6:30 p.m.
This lecture will build on the first two, arguing – principally in the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude as well as perhaps in that of some artists of interwar Europe and some contemporary artists in China – that works of art, because of their access to unconscious meaning and their ability to modify unconscious organization (lectures one and two), can profoundly affect our social and political consciousness on a level deeper than simple representation (which is usually what people mean when they talk about “political” dimensions to works of art).

The Origin of the Image: What Modern Art Tells Us About the Mind: lecture 4 “Desire Lines in the Mind”
April 2, 2013 – Sheldon Art Museum, 5:30 p.m.
April 3, 2013 – KANEKO, 6:30 p.m.
This final lecture will speculate on the effects of art on the brain and set out an argument for the necessity of art, drawing on neuroscience and experimental psychology as well as the writings of artists to examine how visual thinking changes the brain, enhances creativity, and plays a central role in the creation of new knowledge.


In addition to his positions at Illinois and The Parrish Art Museum, Fineberg is a trustee emeritus of The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., where he was founding director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art. With the former chancellor of the University of Illinois, Richard Herman, Fineberg established Illinois at the Phillips, a “study abroad” program for graduate and undergraduate students at Illinois with a full load of credit coursework in art history and museum studies in the Center.

He earned his B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute in London, and studied psychoanalysis at the Boston and Western New England Psychoanalytic Institutes. He has taught at Yale, Harvard and Columbia universities and his awards include: the Pulitzer Fellowship in Critical Writing, the NEA Art Critic’s Fellowship, Senior Fellowships from the Dedalus Foundation and the Japan Foundation, and the College Art Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in the History of Art.

Fineberg’s other books include Christo and Jeanne-Claude: On the Way to the Gates (Yale University Press/Metropolitan Museum of Art); The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist (Princeton University Press); Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art (with John Carlin, a Yale book and a two-hour PBS television documentary which he created with John Carlin); and When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child (University of California Press). A TroubIesome Subject: The Art of Robert Arneson is forthcoming from University of California Press in 2013; his exhibition catalogue Alice Aycock: Drawings will accompany an exhibition that opens in two parts at the Parrish and the Gray Art Gallery at NYU in 2013; and, with Professor Gary Xu, he is currently writing a monograph on the contemporary Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang.

As he states on his website, “My central interest is in creativity, interweaving four lifelong threads in my thinking: The first is an interest in psychoanalysis as a means of understanding the dynamics of creative work (and more recently neuroaesthetics which looks at aesthetic judgment in the brain from a neuroscience perspective). The second is art history and criticism from the point of view of the way in which both society and individuals (artists and viewers) use the art of their own times to bring coherence and insight to their experience. The third is an interest in child art and childhood as a way into the psychodynamics of aesthetic experience. And lastly, my own persevering creative practice, first in sculpture and then in film but above all in my writing.”

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska