by Yukio Lippit
As an Ishibashi Visiting Professor at the University of Heidelberg for the summer semester, 2009, I have taken the liberty to convey some brief observations and impressions of my teaching experience. I found the Institute of East Asian Art at Heidelberg to be a unique and highly rewarding place to teach on a number of registers.
Given its long history and energetic program, the institute has a rich array of resources, both human and bibliographic, with which to carry out instruction in Japanese art. The German system accommodates a more complex stratigraphy of scholarly levels than the American system of higher education (to which I am most accustomed), especially in its inclusion of “assistant professors” (what in the United States would be the equivalent of postdoctoral researchers who also teach, and in the Japanese system perhaps the joshu). Most departments in Germany, from what I understand, have only one or two, but the Institute of East Asian Art has four, a remarkable number.
The library, furthermore, is particularly rich in Japanese exhibition catalogues, which are very poorly represented in American university libraries, where one usually has to borrow a rare copy through inter-library loan from the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Indeed, during my six-week stay I encountered several Japanese publications in my own field in Heidelberg of which I was totally unaware, and which could not be found at Harvard.
The Institute at Heidelberg is also very well situated in Europe to bring together scholars from all over the continent. During my stay I was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop on Japanese narrative painting that brought presenters together from England, France, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States, as well as Germany. Because Heidelberg is one of only two German universities that teach East Asian art history at both the undergraduate and graduate levels (out of a total of fifty universities with art history departments, according to James Elkins in Is Art History Global?), students congregated there from faraway destinations as well. For example, I met there a Danish scholar working in my own field, medieval Japanese ink painting, of whom I had never heard. My knowledge of the field grew expansively as a result of my residency there.
Another aspect of the Heidelberg Institute that left a strong impression on me was its interregionalism—both Chinese and Japanese art are taught there, as well as premodern and modern. Because my approach to my own courses (Zen Buddhist art and Japanese architecture) attempts to be interregional, I was initially concerned that students would not have sufficient background or would be otherwise confused by the coverage of more than one country in East Asia. In fact I found the opposite to be the case; the students were not only familiar with an interregional approach to East Asia, but welcomed it, making the teaching much more invigorating. The passage of Chan Buddhist practice into the archipelago, where it became Zen, and the re-articulation of Japanese architecture against East Asian traditions of monumental timber-frame construction was taken as a matter of course by the seminar participants, who themselves were taking courses in both Chinese and Japanese art.
Finally, I should add that my stay at Heidelberg was stimulated by the extremely active intellectual agenda established by Professor Melanie Trede under the Cluster of Excellence designation, whose mandate is to bring together scholars from different disciplines to work out problems such as the cultural flows between East and West on a global scale. This lively framework proved a boon to the development of my own research on Japanese oil painting, among other subjects.
The students were on the whole extremely dedicated and earnest, and although initially shy about engaging an unfamiliar professor in a language other than their native tongue, quickly warmed to class discussion and were continuously willing to express their enthusiasm. The support staff for visiting professors was so large as to be almost embarrassing; it is difficult to imagine a more resource-rich environment for a guest lecturer to engage in. Japanese art is highly fortunate to be so well represented, so well tended to at one institution as it is in Heidelberg.
“Prof. Lippit always came perfectly prepared to the seminar and offered a well structured course but was also open to answer all our questions. He was an excellent and very professional teacher always interested in our opinion. Not just professionally but also personally he impressed me very much with his strong devotion to everything he did. He was always open for any suggestions and offered long office hours for the students. His passion for all kinds of art - himself being a specialist for Japanese art with a strong interest in Chinese art - inspired me very much and awoke my interest for japanese culture, that was focused on chinese art by now. Even in such a short period of time he was able to show what a great teacher he is. Definitely one of the best courses I ever took during my five years at four different universities.”
Manuel Sassmann, student of Philosophy, East Asian Art History and Ancient Chinese
“I met Prof. Lippit in 2004 when I studied Japanese art history at Princeton University.
When the opportunity rose to attend his class in Heidelberg, I did not hesitate to shift all other obligations in order to be able to participate. He is a very generous and open-minded teacher who always seems to effortlessly find a way to break down most complex structures to a beginner’s level. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to benefit not only from Prof. Lippit’s vast knowledge but also from getting an insight in his excellent teaching methods.”
“Both lecture and seminar were structured very well. Even though there was so little time, I did not feel overtaxed. Prof. Lippit also explained things very easy to understand, especially in the Architecture Class, and he asked us every time to speak openly, if there was something we didn't know and come and visit him in his office hours. I really enjoyed the lessons. “
Carina Thorn, student of East Asian Art History and Japanese Studies