Art historian and artist John Bott will speak on the topic of “Women in Art” at the Pensacola Museum of Art on the evening of Nov. 18. Bott grew up in Magnolia Springs, Ala., and attended Troy State College, going on to the University of North Carolina for his Master of Fine Arts. He has been a professor at Colby-Sawyer’s Fine and Performing Arts Department in New London, N.H. since 1977. Although he retired this year, not much is slowing him down. Recently, IN had a chance to catch up with him and discuss his work and influences.
IN: Though you currently live in New Hampshire, I see that you graduated from Foley High School. What was it like growing up in Foley, Ala. in the mid-1950s?
Bott: I lived in Magnolia Springs when I was growing up. It was a great place to grow up. People were very encouraging for us to go to college, and to follow our dreams. Foley High School was also terrific. Mr. Smith, our principal, was a great example as an educator.
IN: You received your Bachelor of Science degree in art from Troy State College, followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. What made you choose art as a major?
Bott: I had always created art and never really considered anything else. Troy State didn’t have an art major when I started there, but got one when I was away in the Army.
IN: Your imagery has frequently drawn on the natural world. Was your early experience on the Gulf Coast an influence?
Bott: The Gulf Coast, the beach and also the Magnolia River were big influences, but I actually came to nature as a theme only in middle age. As a young man, I was more influenced by jazz.
IN: Your career spans some of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. Which have had the most impact on your work? Which artists in particular?
Bott: As you might expect I have a long list of influences, starting with Monet and jumping to Jackson Pollock. Helen Frankenthaler and a number of others also influenced me.
IN: In 1976 you attended a summer master class with Elaine De Kooning, famous abstract expressionist and figurative expressionist. How did that experience change you?
Bott: Elaine’s class was very interesting, but we spent more time gossiping than anything else. She knew everybody.
IN: Despite the achievements of artists like Elaine De Kooning and some others, critical attention to women in the history of art has been lacking until fairly recently. Will your lecture, “Women in Art,” address that issue?
Bott: I first became involved in gender issues in the late-1970s when I met Judy Chicago and Marian Shapiro and several others at a College Art Association in Detroit. They were introducing the Women’s Coalition and made available a number of resources.
IN: Do you think that gender issues are important ones for contemporary art?
Bott: In recent years, many of the top artists are women. Museums are still a little slow on acquiring historical work by women, but some, like Artemisia Gentileschi, are held in very high esteem (second only to Caravaggio).
IN: How different are the issues facing artists now from when you began as a student?
Bott: I began to be interested in the subject because more of my students were female. Nowadays, lots of faculty members are women and we take women artists seriously—at least in the Northeast where I have been living and teaching. Most people who know little about art can name only one or two women artists. I think gender issues are no longer important because of discrimination, but are important for consideration of the question: “Is women’s imagery different than men’s?” Lucy Lippard has addressed this issue. In the old days, people would say of a woman artist, “She paints just like a man,” and consider it a compliment.
IN: How has your dedication to teaching enriched your own work?
Bott: When I began as an artist, how the work looked was the most important thing. Today, some people say aesthetics is not really a guiding factor in art. I don’t agree with them. College students are at a wonderful age. They are full of life and have a lot of creativity. I miss them. College teaching sets high standards for teachers and keeps you in touch with the art community. You are expected to make art on a very high level.
IN: How has your work changed over the years? How have you adapted to the digital options now available to artists?
Bott: My work has changed continuously over the years. And, yes, I am very influenced by digital stuff, but not as a method of making. Computer images are too impermanent. They do very much affect the way I look at things. A good example is what I see on my satellite TV when there is a storm and the picture breaks up. I am very interested in grids and have been for years.
IN: Do you have a website? Can our readers view your work online?
JOHN BOTT’S “WOMEN IN ART” LECTURE
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: Free, but RSVP is requested
DETAILS: pensacolamuseumofart.org/events, or 432-6247