Harry Berger focuses on the beauty and chaos of still life in Lecture


Harry Berger, a founding faculty member at UC Santa Cruz, is known for his far-ranging, irreverent mind and the breadth of his art history work.

Why do the Dutch 17th century still life paintings place such a strong emphasis on chaos, entropy and disorder? How did still life painters portray the conflict between order, harmony and beauty on the one hand and disorder, damage and death on the other?

Harry Berger, a founding faculty member at UC Santa Cruz,  will focus on this subject during a free Emeriti Faculty Lecture scheduled for 7 p.m., April 21 at the Music Recital Hall.

Berger is famous for his wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach as a literary and cultural critic. Now in his mid-80s, he hasn’t slowed down, continuing his regular output of scholarly essays and books.

He’s also known for his irreverent wit; in a poster for the event, Berger promised to explore still life “through the lens provided by Stephen Colbert’s idea of ‘truthiness,’ while paying special attention to the way still-life painters delight in depicting “the depredations inflicted by such tiny terrorists as snails and caterpillars.”

In fact, the insect damage portrayed in the still life inspired the title of this presentation: “Caterpillage.”

The talk will be an opportunity to hear Berger’s far-ranging, adventurous mind at work.

"Although the breadth of Berger's work is awesome, he doesn't dabble," said David Lee Miller, co-editor of A Touch More Rare: Harry Berger Jr. and the Arts of Interpretation. "When he turns to art history, he challenges and transforms the field's repertoire of methodologies. Whatever his mind touches starts to glow."

Berger came to UC Santa Cruz in 1965 where he taught a variety of subjects under the general category of culture theory and Renaissance culture, including Renaissance drama and Shakespeare.

In art history, he specialized in Italian and Dutch painting and the theory and practice of portraiture. Berger has published extensively over the years, with numerous books and more than 100 articles to his credit. Since his retirement, Berger has written dozens of articles and completed nine books.