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Walter B. Denny

Professor Walter Denny

What about Islamic art first piqued your interest?

When I was 16 years old, my dad, a professor of physics at Grinnell College, had a sabbatical teaching job in Istanbul. The experience of living in Turkey changed my whole life, and led to a life-long interest in Islamic art and architecture.

What courses are you most excited about teaching each semester?

I always enjoy teaching Art History 115, the semester-long topical introduction to the visual arts, every fall, both because it's exciting to open up lives to art, but also because it's fun to work with a team of TAs who are first-time teachers.  But I have to say that even after 45 years, I am still exited about all the courses I teach.

You have extensive experience in working with museums. How do you think UMass Amherst art history curriculum prepares students for museum work as well as other careers?

On the undergraduate level we are able to sponsor majors in internships in the many and varied area art museums, while the new Practicum course gives our students a taste of the various museum careers.  On the graduate level, we offer the Graduate Seminar in Museum Studies, which I have taught for over three decades.  Judging by the success of our graduates, we have done a pretty good job in preparing students for a wide variety of careers in art history-related field.

What benefits do you see for students who take courses in art history?

Art history courses at our University are one of the very best ways for any student, regardless of major, to develop abilities in critical thinking, complex reasoning, analytical reading, and elegant and communicative writing.  The combination of the critical development of the senses (looking) and the intellect (handling concepts) is without parallel in the University curriculum.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are especially excited about?

After an absence of nine months, I'm back working in the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a senior consultant.  I am about to curate a major show at the Saint Louis Museum of Art.  And next fall I'll be teaching a course in the history of decorative arts for the first time in 30 years. All these projects are very exciting for me.