The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Professor reminisces on life, art

Alessandra Comini, distinguished lecturer in the art historydepartment and the author of numerous award-winning books likeThe Changing Image of Beethoven, Egon Shiele and GustavKlimt, is preparing for the publication of her newest book, amemoir titled In Passionate Pursuit due out in the fall of2004.

Composed in part by the 48 years of daily journal entries thathelp paint a picture of Comini’s life, this book takes thereader all the way back to the beginning of her professionalcareer.

Despite her publisher’s requests that she shorten herwritings on her family, Comini wants the reader to understand herviews and how she came to appreciate art.

“It’s hard to write a memoir that isn’tpersonal,” she said.

Comini has included information about her childhood in Barcelonaand Italy and fun anecdotes she and her classes enjoy, whichprobably help explain why she has been voted “outstandingprofessor” so many times.

Comini has repeatedly inspired her students to not onlyappreciate the art they study but also to look beyond the colorsand sounds to understand the meaning that lies behind the paint andnotes.

“Professor Comini’s class convinced me to change mymajor to art history,” sophomore art history student DeeHolliday said.

From islands off the coast of Spain and Italy, to visiting thebeautiful scenes of Barcelona, Rome, Athens and Paris,Comini’s travels have added plenty of depth to her lifetimeof experiences.

“I would love to travel to even half of the placesProfessor Comini has been to. Her adventure stories can inspireanyone,” first-year Catherine Haralson said.

Comini’s start will be a surprise to her readers. With aprogressing major in philosophy at Barnard, Comini later took aclass in Italian Renaissance art with a German professor. Cominifell in love with her professor’s accent. The way he spoke ofart, languages and traveling convinced Comini she had found hercalling.

Later an even more substantial turn occurred at the Universityof California-Berkeley when a class assignment forced her toexplore modern art. She had steered clear of contemporary artistsand classes and thought she was only interested in Medieval Art.However, when she saw Egon Shiele’s works like”Sucession” and “The Artist’s Wife,”something clicked:

“It was an epiphany — I walked in and saw thedrawings of Shiele and it was like a revelation. I thought, I likethis!”

This inspiration drove Comini to write four books on this famousExpressionist painter.

Her teaching and research at Columbia University ended after 10years when Comini moved to Dallas.

Her family lived in Dallas, and SMU appealed to her for avariety of reasons.

Comini was able to spend time with family at work; her motherfounded the Italian language department at SMU and taught there,and her younger sister actually took one of her classes. This wasthe best of both worlds for Comini after a childhood of changinghomes so often.

Beyond the classroom and her travels abroad, Comini has a summeradventure every year. The Santa Fe Opera requests that she visitand teach a class, allowing Comini to come up with a new syllabuseach summer. The last class she taught there, “Madness inOpera, Insanity in Art,” focused on relating the mad scenesin operas to the artists that went mad during their time.

Comini is always “in passionate pursuit” of aparticular artist, but has yet to visit Japan. She will make thattrip when she isn’t busy organizing lectures for the DallasSymphony Orchestra. Her new project for DSO: a lecture on FelixMendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’sDream.”

Comini has a certain “soft spot” for Scandinavia,particularly Scandinavian artists and composers. Her interest inthe two has led her to the area many times and it is still one ofher favorite places to visit. Comini especially enjoys studying theworks of women and Jewish artists, who faced such persecution thatneither had a fair chance for exposure. Comini’s studies inFinland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have aided in her research ofthese unappreciated artists.

Comini has spent her entire life studying the works of composersand artists alike.

Her extensive research on revisionist art history has beenrecognized numerous times by various organizations such as theWomen’s Caucus for Art, which gave her a Lifetime AchievementAward in 1995, and the Phi Beta Kappa of Texas, which awarded herthe Laurence Perrine Prize for Teaching and Scholarship in2003.

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