Long-time art and history lover Professor Jon Carstens has dedicated three decades of his life to PUC. His interest in various styles, eras, mediums, and artists brings a lot to the table for our students, and we’re glad to have him on our faculty. You can discuss all this and more if you catch up with Professor Carstens in Fisher Hall between classes—and trust us: bring a maple bar.
Name: Jon Carstens
Title: Associate Professor of Art History
Faculty since: 1979-2004, then back in 2014
Fall Quarter Classes: History of Western Art I: Prehistoric to Medieval, History of Western Art II: Renaissance to Modern, History of American Art, History of Women Artists, History of Asian Art, History of Modern Art to 1945, History of Contemporary Art Since 1945, History of Photography and History of World Cinema
Education: B.A. in art history and history from the University of Redlands; M.A. in art history from the University of California, Riverside
What started your passion for history and art?
Ever since I was a young child I always had an interest in history and the biographies of noteworthy persons in particular. In the tenth grade, I took a college prep class called Humanities which incorporated history, literature, philosophy, and art history into an integrated three-hour block. I was immediately taken with the interdisciplinary nature of art history as it combined the best of all worlds for me; that is, the study of history seen through diverse cultural events of artists/architects/designers and their respective works. Art was more than just a pretty picture hanging on a wall; it was an expressive document which told me about the creator and their relationship to their supreme being(s), their fellow humans, themselves and to their environment.
So what made you want to teach?
In part, it is in my genes. I come from a family of teachers. My mother fostered a progressive educational environment both at home and at school; her approach stressed the joy of learning in all academic areas with special emphasis on the humanities. She never missed a chance to observe our fascination with something and provide us with the requisite learning materials to enhance that interest. I can still remember my excitement going to the mailbox to get the most recent issue of Life magazine when I got home from elementary school on a Friday afternoon. Little did I know Henry Luce’s prospectus for the magazine to be “Show Book to the World” would become my mantra as a teacher: “To see and take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.” Ultimately, as Pablo Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” That is why I am a teacher.
What is your favorite period in art history?
Attempting to answer that is akin to responding to a question as to who is my favorite child or grandchild. As a generalist, I genuinely have a passion for nearly all art historical/cultural epochs. If pressed, I am all over the place, as I have a special affinity for the paintings of American Realists Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, while at the same time I am enthralled with the woodblock prints of the Japanese Ukiyo-e masters Hokusai and Hiroshige. If I could turn back the clock, I could easily add to my specialty in late 19th Century American Realism by concentrating anew on the art and architecture of Japan and Islam.
Which artists inspire you?
One of the most inspirational artists for me is Maya Ying Lin. Her ability to respond to the divisiveness of the Vietnam War by creating a memorial in Washington, D.C. which miraculously heals and unifies at the same time was and continues to be a remarkable achievement. From a stylistic standpoint, her work in such a minimalist fashion touches humanity at an incredible number of universal levels. I never cease to be amazed at her ability to remain such a picture of dignity and grace when faced with intense criticism when she was awarded the commission as a college student.
Where did you grow up?
At the age of two, my family moved from my birthplace in Beatrice, Nebraska, to San Bernardino, California, where I grew up. There I attended Barton Elementary, Highland Junior High, and San Gorgonio High.
What are some of your hobbies?
I don’t know if these are considered hobbies, but I enjoy home renovation both in terms of interior and landscape design. The research which goes into choosing and coordinating colors, materials, furniture, plants, trees, and lighting is my mode of personal expression and I enjoy it very much.
Going local, what is your typical order at the Grind?
Since my wife makes me different blends of tea which I bring to work from home, I don’t go to the Grind; that could all change, however, if I find out they offer maple bars and cinnamon rolls.
Tell us something about yourself we might be surprised to learn.
For eight years I raced karts at road courses in Davis, Dixon, and Prairie City here in Northern California.
Where is your favorite place in the world, and why?
If we are talking somewhere in the U.S., my favorite place would be Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with its four-seasons climate and spectacular scenic combination of lakes, forests, mountains, and rolling hills. In Europe, it would be the Tuscan region of Italy as I never cease to enjoy the thought of being transported back to the Renaissance while strolling the streets and attending the museums of Florence.