By Michael Chesnick
School of Art
Ricardo Chavez, a University of Arizona School of Art doctoral candidate in Art History and Education, has been named a prestigious Tyson Scholar in American Art for the fall 2023 semester at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Chavez will spend the 15-week residential fellowship doing research for his dissertation, “The Lost Utopian Classroom: Radical Pedagogies in American Art.” The project involves the intersections of art, education, and activism in American art and the legacies of the social movements of the 1960s as they impact artistic practice today.
“The biggest thing for me is the feeling of reaffirmation for both myself as a scholar and for the value of the research I am conducting,” Chavez said. “The whole experience of being a visiting scholar at such a well-renowned American art institution feels incredible to me.”
Established in 2012, the Tyson Scholars Program in American Art has supported more than 70 scholars, attracting national and international academic professionals. Crystal Bridges, founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation, has a collection that spans five centuries of American art with 3,000 paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography and new media.
“We believe your proposed project has the potential to advance the understanding of American art, and we look forward to welcoming you to the fellowship program,” Cyrstal Bridges executive Mindy N. Besaw told Chavez in his invitation letter.
For his “Lost Utopian Classroom” dissertation, Chavez plans to use his residency “as an opportunity to immerse myself in the museum’s social and community engagement programs that demonstrate the kinds of pedagogical and socially engaged art practices that are central to my dissertation work.”
Chavez grew up in Merced, California, in the heart of the state’s rural Central Valley.
“My location, coupled with being the son of immigrant parents who never entered into higher education, meant I had little exposure to art until I entered college,” Chavez said. “After taking some introductory courses, I really got into the subject when I took a course on contemporary art history and became fascinated with the diverse artistic voices and their creativity in expanding the definition of art in the present.”
Chavez earned his B.A. in Art History from California State University-Sacramento in 2011 and his M.A. in Art History and Visual Culture from San Jose State University in 2018.
He chose the University of Arizona School of Art to pursue his doctoral degree to work with Professor Larry Busbea, his adviser who specializes in design and art of post-war United States and Europe.
“I also was drawn in to earn my minor with the Art & Visual Culture Education program, due to its strong focus on using art education for social engagement,” Chavez said.
“My studies have thus pushed me to find ways to bridge the gap between what the fields of art history and art education have to offer one another,” he added. “Doing so while finding my own voice as a scholar and educator have been both the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my time here.”
Chavez, a graduate teaching assistant for the School of Art, said students interested in Art History and Art & Visual Culture Education should “expand the field.”
“Push it beyond its disciplinary boundaries,” he said. “That is what art history needs the most. It is not just a matter of studying creativity, it is also about being creative while doing so.
“Begin by identifying what interests you the most within the field, whether it is a movement, a time period, a medium, or a theme, and then try to build on that,” Chavez continued. “Try to build on the way art history perceives it, and eventually you might find a new and unique way of doing so that the field has yet to consider.”