by J. Fatima Martins
In News & Views, the Mystic Museum of Art’s (MMoA) newsletter, Dawn E. Salerno, MMoA’s deputy director for public engagement and operations, asks in her “Art Education and National Welfare” essay, “Can a museum teach empathy or inspire good citizenship?” She goes on to reference a study that found that “even a single museum experience improved a student’s empathy for people who lived in a different time and place.”
Salerno’s essay highlights a fundamental element of art: it is a product of culture, and culture tells the story of people. It is therefore, a teaching tool — an example of a specific colorful moment that can only be fully understood through preservation and continued reexamination. For this reason, MMoA’s two concurrent exhibitions, “Robert Brackman: Thinking in Color” and “Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts 106th Annual Exhibition,” are particularly important. Viewed together, the exhibitions point to the connection between visual art education and history.
Most people have heard of American aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) and American businessman John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960), but few know artist Robert Brackman (1898-1980), who was an esteemed member of MMoA, a beloved teacher and prominent portrait painter. In her exhibition essay, curator Erika Neenan explains, “These prominent individuals are only a small number who chose to have artist Robert Brackman paint their portrait. After completing the portraits of the Lindberghs, Brackman emerged as a sought-after portraitist who could easily have become a society painter. Instead [he] worked against this classification by becoming a dedicated teacher.”