Rita Felski is currently a professor at the University of Virginia. Her writings include work on literary theory and aesthetics, modernity and postmodernity, feminist theory and cultural studies. Photo by Brent Bemiller.
After years of indifference to the music of pop singer Joni Mitchell, Zadie Smith suddenly found herself in love with Mitchell’s music. In her lecture, Rita Felski uses Smith’s change in preference to explain why art captivates us.
Felski’s lecture “Attunement: How We Become Enthralled by Art” kicked off the Spring 2018 Dresher Center Humanities Forum series in the AOK library gallery. Surrounded by ambient lighting and exhibition artwork, Felski delivered a powerful speech on her research.
Felski defines Attunement as the unpredictable nature of how experiences and social influences can shape the perception of art. Attunement is the reason why art captivates people. It is also the focus of the research that Felski, an English professor at the University of Virginia, is currently conducting. Her work focuses on literary theory and aesthetics— the science behind why people enjoy art.
Felski’s lecture introduces the idea behind why some works of art are captivating while others bore people. She attunes the audience to how people’s perceptions shift as they go through life. “There’s also this other side to it, not just appreciating it, but being aware of how it works on us,” said Dresher Center Director Jessica Berman.
At UMBC, the Dresher Center has been striving to make the humanities accessible to all students. The Humanities Forum series aims to bring ideas and perspectives from around the country to UMBC. According to Berman, the series hopes to change how students view the humanities and provide a meaningful experience to students, no matter what major they are.
“What we’re hoping will happen is some sort of connecting with people, pushing them a little in new directions and adding something new to the way they might approach the issues facing [sic] in their lives,” Berman said.
In the following months, the Dresher Center plans to bring many other speakers to UMBC. Next week Jennifer Stoever, an associate professor of English at Binghamton University, will be speaking on the relationship between race and sound in her lecture “Listening To Racism in the US – Or Why Sound Matters.”
“A really good lecture like this can really jolt you out your habits,” said Berman. When students hear new ideas, it has the potential to make a difference in their lives.
The Humanities Forum is one of many lecture series UMBC students can attend. Most departments host a lecture series to educate students outside of the classroom.
Felski’s lecture gave students insight into the mystery of human mental processes and why certain information, including what students hear in extracurricular lectures, makes a lasting impression. “Our senses are trained to distinguish and indistinguish,” said Felski.