It was an encounter with a famous 500-year-old collection of fresco artwork that pushed Dr. Christopher Bennett, a then-17-year-old high school student, into a career of art history.
Bennett, one of only two art history professors at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, recalled the European tour he took with his French group that led him to stand beneath the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, gazing upward at Italian artist Michelangelo’s nine depictions from the “Book of Genesis.”
“Having grown up in the South, [seeing the Sistine Chapel] is just like something else, another world,” he recollected. “So I decided at a young age that I really wanted to study art history. I’m one of those strange creatures that has stuck to that same decision.”
Bennett went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Georgia in Athens in 2000 and eventually received his doctorate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2008.
The assistant professor, who has been at UL Lafayette now for three years, has taught at multiple universities across the country, moving from coast to coast in some instances, and his work has been published in a number of places.
Last year, he partnered with the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum as both the guest curator for an exhibit featuring artwork from Sandra Eula Lee and Yun-Fei Ji, as well as the author for the accompanying printed catalog.
In August, Bennett had a chapter, “A Painter’s Leeway: Mario Schifano’s ‘Break’ with the Sonnabend Gallery and the Anemic Landscapes of 1964-66,” published in the peer-reviewed volume, “Breaking with Convention in Italian Art.”
And his success did not stop there.
After presenting at a conference in New York in 2015, Bennett was asked to submit his research for the possibility of publication in “Untying the Knot: The State of Italian Postwar Art History Today.” His work, “Gleaning Italian Pop, 1960-66: Venice Biennale, Renato Mambor’s ‘Thread’, and Pop as a Global Phenomenon,” was one of about 15 selected for the edition.
The publication is expected to be available this spring.
In addition to his own research, he and Dr. Allison Leigh, fellow art history professor, created the first “Undergraduate Art History Paper Forum,” which aims to highlight and cultivate undergraduate research in upper level art history courses.
“[The forum] is one of the things I’m proudest of,” Bennett stated. “The students who presented at this first one really did a phenomenal job. They did so well that they didn’t really even need us, which made me happy.”
Bennett has also worked alongside visual arts professor Steven Breaux to publicize his fellow faculty members’ research through Pulse, a lecture series that happens as often as three times a semester. Pulse not only showcases faculty research, but it also gives professors, like Bennett, an opportunity for feedback from others in the field.
“Art history encompasses so many other disciplines,” he said. “You start out studying different art periods, but you can really end up studying psychoanalysis, feminism, phenomenology, philosophy. It’s just a really interesting field to be in.”
(Photo Credit: Scotty Rachaphoumy)