Frances Guerin teaches film and modern art at the Paris School of Arts and Culture, where she is also Director of Graduate Studies for School of Arts in Paris. Here, she tells us why she loves teaching in Paris and why it’s a great place to study. She also talks about her research, which focuses on abstract and experimental images and their engagement with the world.

Describe your role as the Paris Director of Graduate Studies?

My job is that of a Jill of all trades. I am the go-to person for the School of Arts’ students in Paris, and therefore, provide student support, do academic advising, act as staff-student liaison, as well as liaise between Canterbury and Paris programmes, organise teachers for the School of Arts modules, help with events and symposia, design new modules and programmes, and the list goes on! In addition, I’m always looking at ways of improving our students’ experience in Paris.

How long have you been a part of the Paris School of Arts and Culture?

I have been involved with the School since 2010. It’s been so exciting to see it develop. I have seen it grow from a handful of students to our newly renovated classrooms being filled with students from all over the world.

What do you teach at the Paris School of Arts and Culture?

I teach modules on film and modernity and modern art, focusing on images produced in and about Paris within the late-19th and early-20th centuries. This means students learn all about Paris as the city of modernity, how it paved the way for technological developments as well as the resultant growth of social divisions. Studying film and modernity involves looking at how the cinema as a technology contributed to some of the social, political and infrastructural changes that took place in the city. Because, of course, Paris is the city where the cinema was invented. The cinema thus grew side by side with the modernisation of the city at the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries.

The study of modern art looks at this same idea of Paris as the centre of enormous economic and cultural shifts. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, a little before the birth of cinema, Painters such as Courbet, Cezanne, Manet, and later, Picasso responded to these shifts in their work. This moment is also crucial to the development of modern art because it is when the famous Paris art salons became increasingly marginal to the development of art education as well as to the buying and selling of art in an open market. These broader cultural changes are also reflected in interesting ways on the canvases of the painters we study. One of the most exciting aspects of studying art in Paris is that it involves actually going together to see the paintings discussed in class.

What do you enjoy about teaching in Paris?

Teaching in Paris is enormously rewarding because the students are engaged and they use the city as their classroom. Typically, the students who come to Paris have an adventurous streak in them, and are often at a point in their lives where they are beginning to see that they really can live wherever they want and do whatever inspires them. I have seen so many students whose lives are changed and whose futures are defined by their experiences at the Paris School of Arts and Culture. I am never happier than doing the tours of exhibitions and museums. Taking students to see Ingres’ Odalisque, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People or Michelangelo’s Slaves at the Louvre is one of the great joys of my job. As an Australian who grew up with a then-small regional art gallery as my only exposure to art, I think it is the greatest privilege for young people to be in the presence of such extraordinary works. And I try to communicate the magnitude of this opportunity to them at the same time that I tell them the stories behind the paintings and sculptures. They may never see such artworks again in their lives, so for me being the person who accompanies them on what is always an eye-opening experience, is such an honour.

What other benefits are there for students studying at the Paris School of Arts and Culture?

The activities outside of the classroom are endless, and we are continually enhancing these opportunities. Since the beginning, I have taken regular tours of museums and exhibitions with the students. Other colleagues do tours of underground Paris – the sewers, canals and hidden alleyways – and other historical locations that are far from the well-trodden tourist route. So our students get to see some of the city’s secret treasures and learn about them from staff who are experts in the field. Our students slot right into the international student community in Paris. Reid Hall is a hive of activity in term time – there is always a lecture, a film screening, a visit from someone in the community organised through the University, or through the other universities and colleges that occupy the gorgeous old residence in Montparnasse. Our student body comes from every continent and this gives individuals the opportunity to become a part of a very close-knit, diverse community. Our students also participate in events at the American University in Paris, the Sorbonne, Paris III, and various other cultural organisations. Then, on weekends, there are often free tickets to a theatre show, an exhibition or another cultural event organised through the Paris Society or PSAC. The Paris Society has also been a great ‘beyond the classroom’ source of inspiration and creativity for our students. It’s a student led society, supported by Kent, enabling the production of the Menteur (a literary magazine), photography competitions, pub nights, visits to Versailles, lecture nights, poetry readings, and a week-long Festival in the summer term. Because it is student led, the Paris Society also gives students the opportunity to become events co-ordinators for a year!

Tell us about your research interests?

My research and writing are motivated by questions concerning how abstract and experimental images engage with the world around them. I am also interested in the viewer’s aesthetic experience of abstract and experimental film, art and visual culture. While I am not committed to a single visual medium, I do write mostly about painting, film, photography and sculpture. And my work is mainly grounded in 20th-century images. My first books were particularly focused on images that engage with periods of enormous upheaval such as war and traumatic historical events. In one of my current projects (Post-Industrial Views) I am revisiting this concern as I examine the role of film and other images in the transformation of the Ruhr Valley in Germany from an industrial to a cultural landscape. In other books, I have addressed questions surrounding abstract art through analysis of pure abstraction: in On Not Looking (2015), The Truth is Always Grey (2018) and in my other work in progress, Cinematic Portrait Painting: (Not) About Gerhard Richter, I write about the radical aesthetic, and the revelations that come hand in hand with the experience of abstract painting and sculpture.

Have you discovered anything new about Paris since joining the School?

Café de la Rotonde! It’s one of the old Parisian brasseries just down the road from Reid Hall on the corner of Boulevard de Montparnasse. It’s where everyone who was anyone in the neighbourhood used to go in the early-20th century – from Picasso and Modigliani to Trotsky and F Scott Fitzgerald. However, unlike the other big brasseries it’s not overrun with tourists and I can have a coffee in the afternoon on the terrace, or dine on a red velvet banquette with friends in the evening. The service is excellent and there’s something for everyone on the classic French menu.

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