Studying the Aesthetic Lives of Children
In addition to teaching at UMBC, for the last few years Honors College Professor of Visual Arts Ellen Handler Spitz has traveled the U.S. and abroad to discuss her research on the relationship between children’s books and the inner lives of children. Spitz was both honored and elated to receive one of only six Clark Fellowships at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts last summer. The coveted fellowship for art historians from all over the world enables them to write scholarly works in the peaceful and collegial setting of the Berkshire Hills. Spitz used her time to finish her newest book on the aesthetic and imaginative lives of children for projected publication by Pantheon, a subsidiary of Random House, in January of 2006.
In her last book, Inside Picture Books (Yale University Press, 1999), which has been translated into Italian, Japanese and Korean, Spitz examined how picture books shape our childhood and adult lives and explored the profound impact of the experience of reading to children. She revealed how classic picture books transmit psychological wisdom, convey moral lessons, shape tastes and implant subtle prejudices. The London Times’ Quentin Blake said, “What is engaging about Spitz’s book is its mixture of perception, warmth and commitment … This is a valuable contribution to a subject which asks for serious consideration: what children’s books are, and what they do, and what important and curious introductions to life are taking place as we turn the pages together.”
Spitz previously held fellowships at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica; the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (formerly the Bunting Institute); the Center for Advanced Study, Stanford University; and the Center for Children and Childhood Studies, Rutgers University. She has taught and/or lectured in England, France, Israel, India, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Russia, Canada, GREECE, and the People’s Republic of China. In addition to many articles and reviews, she is the author of Art and Psyche (Yale, 1985), Image and Insight ( Columbia, 1991), Museums of the Mind (Yale, 1994) and SHE co-edited Freud and Forbidden Knowledge (N.Y.U., 1994) and Bertolucci’s Last Emperor (Wayne State, 1998).
At UMBC, Spitz teaches interdisciplinary honors seminars in philosophy, psychology, literature, the performing arts and visual culture. “I am thrilled to teach in UMBC’s Honors College, a program that sets high standards for our students and helps them to go anywhere they want to go. I am very interested in contributing to excellence in public education; my desire is to engage students in critical and imaginative thinking and to inspire them to engage in new ideas while deepening their understanding of disciplinary traditions. It is wonderful to be able to do this at a university with dedicated colleagues and a dynamic president who is interested in fostering a strong humanities program.”