Shakespeare/Rembrandt: Themes of Interiority

An Inter-disciplinary Workshop for Students of Fine Arts, Literature and Philosophy

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman’s Grant, 2006, 2007

NEA_LogoColorIn 2006 and 2007 Greg Wyatt was awarded the Chairman’s Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct an inter-disciplinary workshop for undergraduate students of fine arts, literature and philosophy. Underwritten by Fantasy Fountain Fund, American Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, six academic scholarships and six fine arts scholarships were awarded to meritorious students from undergraduate institutions across the country. The student selections were from associate of arts, bachelor of arts and bachelor of fine arts programs, involving six regions of the United States.


The underlying goal of the workshop was to bring about creative interchange between the two groups – fine artists and scholars – in the presence of great works of art and literature. The group, with three team leaders, (Greg Wyatt, Grant Franks and Martha Clark, both senior tutors at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM) traveled to major cultural institutions in New York City (Columbia University Department of English and Comparative Literature, Sculpture Studio at Cathedral St. John the Divine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art); Giverny and Paris, France (Monet’s studio and Garden, Fondation Custodia, Le Louvre); Amsterdam and The Hague, the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House, van Gogh Museum, Mauritshuis) and The Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The objectives were to attend lectures concerning the literary and historical settings of Shakespeare’s work and spending time observing, copying and discussing works of Rembrandt and his contemporaries at various museums. Also, instruction and practice in drawing and wax sculpture techniques were offered so that students may incorporate these skills to their readings of Shakespeare’s plays.

During the four weeks students participated in a program of daily studio practice, art history lectures and literary seminars. For example, in Stratford-upon-Avon, attendance at performances and exploration of the landscape that shaped Shakespeare’s vision of the world accompanied lectures and seminar discussions of his works. Students then worked on visual expression of their ideas in their medium of choice (pencil, pastel, watercolor or wax sculpture) of the plays they saw at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. As expected, the interaction of the two disciplines manifested itself in confronting the larger thematic issues that embrace both: How is individuality manifested in poetry? How is it manifested in the visual presence of Rembrandt’s portraiture? Shakespeare’s imagery presents his characters’ personalities in verbal forms that approach visual and tactile reality. Rembrandt’s paintings, on the other hand, invite the viewer’s gaze toward recognition of the inwardness of the subject.

The workshop was intended to be a challenging experience for the students, presenting all with demands outside the range of the work that they are usually expected to undertake. The excerpts of the four of twelve students’ journals are a testament to the success of the workshop and that creativity occurs precisely when unusual demands require students to turn their minds in unaccustomed directions.