Hoppa direkt till innehållet
Huvudmenyn dold.
Publicerad: 2022-09-20 Uppdaterad: 2022-12-16, 13:30

Forskarporträtt: Michael Yonan

PORTRÄTT From the University of California, Davis to Umeå University. Michael Yonan, Professor of European Art, 1600–1830 at the University of California, Davis and specialist in eighteenth-century European art and in material culture studies, visited our department to give a seminar to the doctoral students on materiality.

Text: Jonas Vågström
Bild: Michael Yonan

Tell us briefly about your background. What did you do before your visit at the Department of Cultural and Media Sciences?

I am an art historian at the University of California, Davis.  I come to Europe regularly for research, and recently have been visiting guest professor at Stockholm University.  Dr. Elin Manker invited me to Umeå University, my first trip to this part of Sweden. 

How did you become interested in your research area?

I’m a specialist in eighteenth-century European art and in material culture studies.  I came to the eighteenth century through contact with brilliant teachers and scholars, primary among them my doctoral adviser, Prof. Mary Sheriff.  She was a brilliant thinker who showed me how important this era is for how art is understand today.  But the material culture aspect of my research I discovered myself.  Objects have always fascinated me, especially old ones, and the ways they suggest past human experiences.  Understanding how matter relates to the broader structures of society is my scholarly mission. 

What did you do during your time at our department?

Dr. Manker invited me to give a seminar to the doctoral students on materiality.  I read descriptions of their research projects, presented some ideas about how materiality can be defined, then discussed it with them.  Very impressive doctoral students at Umeå, I can report!

What are you currently working on, what projects are you involved in?  

The big project right now is a book on materiality in art history, a summation of over a decade of thinking on the subject.  I have several smaller projects underway, too.  I am editing a special issue of a journal called Journal18, which will focus on temperature and eighteenth-century art.  This is an attempt to link my field to the concerns of historical climatology.  Another project on rococo religious architecture in Bavaria, which grows out of my longtime interest in rococo aesthetics.  Someday this will be a book.  Yet another project is an essay on images of cats in artists’ studios.  Several totally different subjects, but actually, materiality connects them.   

What does a normal working day look like?

Typically I wake up early and write, since my mind is freshest as the day begins.  Later I go to campus, attend meetings, and teach, as dictated by my schedule.  My department is housed in a building near the UC Davis Arboretum, a beautiful park filled with native California plants.  I say hello to turtles, raccoons, and wild turkeys on the way.  I try to keep a little time at the end of the day, around 17:00 or so, to do nothing, since I sincerely believe Albert Einstein’s famous statement that creativity emerges from idleness.  I usually cook dinner for my household, too, since I find it good to work with the hands after working with the mind all day. 

What is the most fun about your job?

Honestly, I love to lecture.  It surprises me to write that, because when I was younger, I found lecturing very scary.  But something in me changed, and now it invigorates me.  I really enjoy it, especially lecturing to the introductory art history courses where you have students from all different backgrounds, many of whom are experiencing art history for the first time. 

What is most challenging?

Time management!  Figuring out where to concentrate your energies with the time you have. 

What do you want to do in the future?

I’ve reached a phase of my career where I have a lot of flexibility.  I want to write two more books, if I can. Mostly I want to help the next generation develop their ideas and grow.  My career would not have been possible without the guidance of mentors.  I feel it’s my responsibility to give back. 

Quick facts

Name: Michael Yonan
Lives: Davis, California
Works as: Professor of European Art, 1600–1830, University of California, Davis
Reading tips / Book tips:
I will give two:  one academic, and one for pleasure.
Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (MIT, 2013). A book on the relationship between the mind and the material world. 
For pleasure:
Rolf Johansson, Skräddare och Aventyrare (Proenter, 2018; English translation 2021).  Based on the life of the author’s grandfather, who grew up on a farm in Skåne, emigrated to America and lived in Chicago, Seattle, and Alaska before returning to Sweden.  Vivid narrative of immigrant life in the USA around 1900.