As Houghton’s resident instructor in Asian and contemporary Western art history, John Rhett, professor of art at Houghton College, implicitly understands the themes, concepts of beauty and form, and cross-cultural influences of both genres. Rhett recently traveled to China at the express invitation of Xu Li, faculty member at the China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, to lecture on these topics.
The impetus for this trip began in Spring 2015 when the Confucius Institute, a cultural exchange program housed at Alfred University invited Ding Shan (Wuhan University of Technology) and Xu Li to visit. Rhett in turn asked the pair to come to Houghton and provide a lecture and demonstration of traditional Chinese painting techniques. The following year, Rhett received an offer for another exchange – this time with Li’s university.
His proposal – which was accepted and came to fruition this spring – investigated a range of topics, including art and identity and their ties to cultural and societal values, how Asian and Western art have impacted each other, and the effects of industrialization on Western art. His lecture series occurred over several days, beginning with the China University of Geosciences with an additional lecture at Wuhan University of Technology. Content he had covered in his Introduction to the Visual Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art History, and Asian Art History Survey classes became more dynamic as he was able to take “meaningful threads from my content in each class, and attempt to construct narratives and explore ideas.” Shortly before Rhett and his son Thomas, a 2016 Houghton graduate, arrived in China, they learned of an additional opportunity of presenting at Line Kong, one of the most successful digital game development companies in the country.
Although there was a language barrier, Rhett notes a positive reception. He also had the opportunity to travel not only as a professional academic but as a curious individual, interacting with his counterpart art colleagues from China. He was able to connect his study of Chinese art to the real-life inspirations for it, including landscapes, temples, ceramics and even simple stones.
“It was such a privilege to not only be able to step into the China of my imagination, but to be a part of the energetic everyday life that is modern China as the guest of a university art department,” remarks Rhett.