Through art and history, John Bailly builds bridges between France and the US
e-Toile- John Bailly, you are a Faculty Fellow at Florida International University. Could you please introduce yourself and the University to our readers?
John Bailly : I have taught in the FIU Honors College since 2004. I am an artist with an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University School of Art. My father is French (from Savoie), my mother is from Ohio, and I was born in the UK. I lived in France (Paris and Lyon) until the age of ten, then moved to Miami.
My artwork reflects on cultural identity, especially as it relates to the manners and symbols we utilize to formulate our sense of reality. Mostly large works in oil, my paintings combine both representational and abstract imagery.
e-Toile- You have been recently honored for developing a study abroad course entitled “French and American Commonalities”. Why did you choose to set up those classes?
John Bailly : Unfortunately, I feel Franco-American perceptions often focus on negative stereotypes. In actuality, the nations share a common history that is central to their modern states and culture. Two of the courses I teach, “Reacting to the Past: French Revolution” and “Art, War, and Human Rights” shatter the stereotypes, and emphasize commonalities in culture, history, and the pursuit of human rights.
We focus primarily on two historical eras, the French and American revolutions, as well as World War II. During the American War of Independence, French soldiers fought alongside Americans, and 165 years later it was the Americans crossing the Atlantic to help reestablish French independence. The parallels are striking.
e-Toile- You gave to this interdisciplinary course a very interesting focus: to examine the French Revolution and its ideas through arts.
With this in mind, during your trip in France with the students, what locations and cities did you visit?
John Bailly : Jacques-Louis David is one of the most important and compelling figures in the history of art. The manner in which his early paintings reflect the ideology and aspirations of the French Revolution, and how these Neo-Classical works in turn socially and formally influenced 19th century French and American art, is of great significance to our notions of contemporary art.
David is almost single handedly responsible for the dissolution of the Academie royale de peinture et de sculpture, thereby enabling the independent operation of artists and legitimizing the status of the artist as an anti-establishment activist.
The class not only studies David’s works, but also how revolutionaries perceived pre-revolutionary works, as well as the development of art after the revolution. We walk through the history or art in all the major museums in Paris.
We also visit the Chateaux de la Loire and Versailles, as well as Provins. We also visited Sainte-Mere Eglise, Bayeux, Mont-Saint-Michel, Arromanches, Strasbourg, Kehl, Baden-Baden, Freiburg, and Blois.
e-Toile- Students were invited by the French Holocaust survivor Joseph Weismann. They had also the opportunity to cross one of the bridges uniting Germany and France and to visit the EU Council.
After this one-of-a-kind experience, what do young Americans think about what is called in the news the “European crisis”?
John Bailly : Our focus, as a class, was an examination of the reflection in art of the pursuit of human rights and examining the history of armed conflicts related to this struggle. There are difficult questions to answer. Specifically, how can cultures with such high ideological aspirations sink to such horrifying lows: ethnic cleansing, slavery, gender inequality...
One of the darkest moments in French history is without any doubt la Rafle du Vel d’Hiv. How can the country that produced the Declaration of the Right of Man and of the Citizen then actively participate in the Holocaust? Not confronting this history is certainly the greatest risk that such an event can recur.
Joseph Weismann is one of the wisest and most inspirational persons I have ever met. It is the highest honor for me to have met him and spent time with him. Mr. Weismann is a hero, not only for his personal actions but even more so for the strength he demonstrates in sharing and teaching his experience in the hope that no such genocide will never occur again.
Thanks to Celine Messeri and Gaël de Maisonneuve, the FIU Honors College was able to host M. Weismann in early 2011. He then invited 15 FIU students to Le Mans for the commemoration of La Rafle in July.
After the ceremony, he invited us to his home to discuss the issues central to our course. The following day, the class was in Normandy to visit the D-Day Beaches and the American Cemetery. The circle was complete.
The day the students spent with Mr. Weismann was a transformative experience for them. It changed their lives. It was a privilege, but also the assumption of a responsibility. They will never see themselves nor their role in the world again. They are bearers of the message “never again.”
As a class, we also visited the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. After our meeting, in celebration of European unity, we all rode our bicycles across the Pont de l’Europe de Strasbourg – Kehl.
e-Toile- Will you be continuing this study abroad course “Art, War and Human Rights” this year?
John Bailly : Absolutely. The class is already full. We will be in France in July 2012. The only dilemma facing us is that we do not have the capability to meet the demand for the amount of students that wish to go. This can give us all hope for future Franco-American relations.