Art in the Right Place Students in Elliott King’s Spring Term class, “Modern Art in Barcelona,” are being steeped in Spanish art, history and architecture during an unforgettable educational trip to Barcelona and Madrid.
“It has been so rewarding to take classes during Spring Term that professors have really made from scratch based on their specific academic interests.”
~ Elliott Maron ’23
Most of the students in Associate Professor of Art History Elliott King’s Spring Term course had never traveled outside the United States, but the initiation they’re getting in Spain this month would make even the most seasoned traveler envious.
As part of “Modern Art in Barcelona: From Gaudí to Dalí,” students are spending three weeks exploring the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid, where they are soaking up the artists, architects and designers who defined Catalan modern art in the late 19th and early 20th century, between the Universal Exposition in Barcelona and the outbreak of Spanish Civil War.
“Before this trip, I’d never even been on a plane before, let alone out of the country,” said Jess Kishbaugh ’24. “Having the opportunity to not only be studying something I love but to be able to do it in such a beautiful and meaningful place has been amazing. The class is honestly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I feel so lucky to get to be a part of it.”
The purpose of Washington and Lee University’s four-week Spring Term is to allow students to immerse themselves in a single course, which often involves travel around the Lexington area, across the country or even around the world. In Spain, King and his students are touring museums such as the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. They are also exploring historic sites and cultural highlights such as Barcelona Cathedral and Dalí’s house-museum in Cadaqués.
“I took Professor King’s Surrealism class last term to prepare for this class, so being in the Salvador Dalí museum was a full circle moment for me,” said Elliott Maron ’23. “Also, a group of us went on a morning hike to a secluded beach where it is rumored that Dalí was inspired for the landscape of ‘The Persistence of Memory.’”
La Segrada Familia, a large unfinished minor basilica in Barcelona, was a highlight for Kishbaugh: “The Sagrada Familia was the first thing I saw that left me speechless. The photos that Professor King showed us before we left couldn’t do it justice.”
The class studied and was quizzed on art history materials before leaving for Spain. Students supplement their day trips abroad with daily travel journaling, pondering questions such as “How do you feel about modern restorations of old buildings like the refurbished Cathedral of Barcelona?” Each student must also complete a Docent for a Day assignment, researching and preparing a description of a location for the class the day before they visit that site. That assignment also involves recommending a reading to the class and providing a post-visit journaling question.
Each student must also complete a digital story during the course, choosing topics such as Dalí’s Catalan Inspirations, Following in Picasso’s Footsteps, Goya’s Modernism or Street Art in Spain.
During the journey, students have had opportunities to explore Barcelona, Madrid and surrounding areas on their own or with small groups. King joined a couple students for a visit to the historic city of Toledo during a free day in Madrid, and there have been plenty of excellent meals to enjoy, as well.
“Cadaqués is always beautiful, and we had a group dinner with paella that was absolutely delicious,” King said. “Some of us did a morning hike on May 11, Dalí’s 118th birthday, so that was really special. We also toured Dalí’s museum in Figueres and met its chief curator, Carme Ruiz.”
In addition, King said, “one night in Barcelona, we were invited over to the apartment of an alumnus, Michael Black ’86. He was extremely warm and hospitable, and offered the students some great insights on living abroad and the diverse merits of a liberal arts education.”
King said he is pleased by how the class has unfolded and he’s looking forward to adding new elements to the syllabus for the next time he teaches it. He credited Academic Programs International (API), the university’s travel partners in Barcelona, and W&L’s Center for International Education – particularly Study Abroad Coordinator Jillian Murphy – for helping to make it a positive experience for students.
Maron, who has now experienced a virtual Spring Term during COVID, a Spring Term in Lexington and a Spring Term abroad, said this special term remains one of her favorite aspects of a W&L education.
“With every experience, you can tell how much the professors really care about their students and their courses,” Maron said. “It has been so rewarding to take classes during Spring Term that professors have really made from scratch based on their specific academic interests. Professor King has studied and researched Salvador Dalí for decades, so taking a class where we get to see his work in person is incredible.”