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Freshman Inquiry: The Work of Art


"The Work of Art" explores the function that art plays in our lives on three levels:

  • It examines works of art from a dance of disciplines -- philosophy, architecture, visual arts, performance, advertising, science, literature, history, popular culture, etc. -- and shows how to gain meaning from them.
  • It looks at the work that goes into the production of these artifacts: the technical expertise and creativity required of artists in the disciplines.
  • It looks at the work art does in the world -- how it shapes, reflects, disguises, complicates, challenges, or brings reality to our assumptions about the world. How is it, for example, that the artistic products of various disciplines impact our understanding of gender, class, national, and racial identities? What are the artistic levers with which we can move our world forward? What can looking through the lens of "art" at the products from a broad range of disciplines reveal about ourselves, our culture[s] and our society? How does the art we do and the art we experience shape our identity? How does it disguise or reveal our essence, heal our hearts, and enable our joy? How does art influence cultural change? How can we use the arts to build community?
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Tom Fisher received his MA and Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo. A participant of the unique Poetics Program there, Tom pursued his interests in poetry through both traditional academic study and involvement in Buffalo's vibrant literary community. He is interested primarily in independently published and nontraditional work that challenges and expands our sense of the literary. Also, as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, Tom studied Classics and has recently returned to it as both a scholar and a teacher. He is very enthusiastic about teaching in Freshman Inquiry and enjoys bringing his various interests, including music, art and theory, as well as his engaged and open teaching practice to the program.

Joseph "Chip" Long received both his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Stanford University; he has been teaching in University Studies since 1998. In addition, he is an assistant professor in International Studies where he teaches courses with a focus on the humanities and currently serves as the European Studies Coordinator. In 2005 and 2009 he taught in the AHA Program in Siena, Italy and is anxious to encourage students to consider study abroad as an integral part of their undergraduate experiences. His research is concentrated on the 20th century English novelist, Evelyn Waugh.

Sarah Wolf Newlands teaches Freshman Inquiry "The Work of Art" and Sophomore Inquiry "Popular Culture", as well as courses in drawing, painting, and contemporary art history. Sarah's students often work collaboratively on interdisciplinary projects in museums and other cultural institutions. She emphasizes process, while promoting students' understanding of their work within larger theoretical and cultural frameworks. Sarah received an MFA from Portland State University and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been actively involved in museum education since she began giving tours at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s. Her own art brings together the language of formal abstraction with commonplace everyday things, using repetition and process as methods of transformation.

Scott Parker joined the Theater Arts faculty in 1977 and teaches acting and improvisational acting classes. He has worked in the Portland theater community since 1968, performing with several semi-professional theaters in the area, as well as the renowned comedy group Waggie & Friends. He was Master of Ceremonies for the annual Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Gala (fund-raising event) - introducing The Temptations in 2002. Each Christmas Scott performs with the Oregon Trail Band in a benefit for "Friends of the Children." Parker's last professional presentation was for the Association of Integrated Studies Conference in 2000. Parker is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and still occasionally does film and television work in the area. He holds an MA from Portland State University.

Jamie P. Ross has been teaching women’s studies, philosophy and interdisciplinary studies at Portland State University since 1992. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy and also did her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Her areas of specialization are Feminist philosophy and American pragmatism. Her goal in teaching is to show students that critical inquiry is the basis of all further learning. It has been said of her reputation as a professor at Portland State University that she "has high standards but is fair." One of her teaching concerns is the low number of women in philosophy as well as other traditionally male dominated fields. She hopes to contribute to a change in that trend by setting an example of alternative ways of incorporating everyday experiences into academia. Dr. Ross hails from New York City. She is a cyclist, rides horses and enjoys Dixieland jazz and baroque music.

Jack Straton earned a BFA in Photography from the University of Oregon in 1977, worked as a professional jazz drummer for three years, and then returned to the U of O in the 1980s to earn a doctorate in quantum theory. Both as a volunteer and professional diversity trainer, he has facilitated several hundred workshops on issues ranging from "Ending Sexual Assault" to "Unlearning Racism." Jack's teaching links all of this. He has served as co-chair of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and writes and speaks on ethical and public policy issues related to the overlap between child abuse and woman abuse. He loves hiking, rollerblading, photographing, yoga, and music.