Pain, Suffering, and Empathy in the Art Museum


Thursday, February 1, 2018, 4:00pm to 5:00pm


University of British Columbia, Museum of Anthropology, Room 213
Pain, Suffering, and Empathy in the Art Museum
David Odo, Director of Student Programs and Research Curator of University Collections Initiatives, Harvard Art Museums
How might encounters with works of art in the museum be an opportunity to meaningfully engage with difficult issues surrounding pain and suffering? Such encounters are most often deployed within art museums as part of a program to teach or foster empathy, often with medical students or physicians, for example, and studies are currently underway to determine whether or not this is possible (and effective). This presentation, drawing on a project in progress underway at the Harvard Art Museums, calls for taking a step back to interrogate what we mean by “empathy” in the museum context and thinking critically about how pain and suffering in art can be an integral part of larger discussions of embodiment, personhood, and social justice. Discussion will center around selected works of art from the museum’s collection, including works by Doris Salcedo, Carrie Mae Weems, Pablo Picasso, Aelbert Bouts, Sandro Boticelli, Mona Hatoum, and others. Please note that some images included in the presentation may be disturbing to some viewers.