Inspiring students in Prague: a living museum

A few days ago I decided to sort out all the books around my desk, bed and sofa and put them back on the bookshelves where they belong (according to my wife, in any case). While doing so, I found three little volumes that I bought many years ago and then promptly forgot about; guidebooks and itineraries for important historical sites in Prague, all written by Professor František Dvořák.

Until his death in 2015, Professor Dvořák was a well-known figure in Czech art history, publishing articles and books, curating exhibitions, and creating documentaries for Czech TV. I first met him around the year 2000 when I started my studies at Charles University, and his exceptional lectures were the reason why I eventually decided to study History of Art. Instead of sitting in the classroom, we would walk around the city and listen to his fascinating stories about Prague’s monuments and buildings, the artists who created them, and the people who lived in them. His lectures were informative and entertaining, and sometimes even fun. After walking for miles around the city or galleries (he was in his eighties by then) we would always end up in a café or pub. There he would regale us with more stories, amusing and wild anecdotes from the lives of his artist friends, many of them now the top stars of Czech modern art.

While leafing through Professor Dvořák’s books, I realized that he was the inspiration for the field trips and class excursions that I integrate into the syllabi of the courses I teach at UNYP. Of course, we usually have to stay in the classroom to discuss Egyptian and Hellenistic art – we don’t have such monuments here – but once we start discussing the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, or Modern eras, the streets and galleries of Prague have riches to offer. The benefits of these excursions are clear, although some of the students who are not used to long-distance walking find themselves tiring quickly, and of course, the Czech weather is not always ideal! First of all, the students look forward to attending these lectures. Secondly, they learn something interesting and useful about the place where they study and live. Thirdly, this kind of first-hand experience with architecture, sculpture, and painting makes it easier for the students to remember important facts and learn how to recognize the specifics of the styles they see. And most importantly for the students, the hands-on approach makes a difference when working on exams and assignments.

Of course, when possible, we end up in a café or a pub chatting about what we have experienced that day, or simply about life in general, just as I once did with František Dvořák. Thank you, Professor, for the inspiration. Your approach lives on, and I hope it will lead many more to the wonders of Prague’s art and architecture, just as it did for me.

This article was originally mistakenly attributed to another faculty member. The School of Communication apologizes for this mistake.

Written by
Marek Červený

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