Well-versed as an art historian, she took over as the head of the Art Department at Missouri Southern State University earlier this year. Bentley is currently wrapping up the final phases of her Ph.D. She has seen a recent re-design of the Spiva Art Gallery of Missouri Southern, adding more flat surfaces for the display of paintings, photographs, and other artistic works.
“I think that art is a universal language,” she states. “I don’t think that people realize when they’re looking at a work of art, they’re seeing it from their perspective. It is something that unites people, puts us in touch with a universal language, and creates a sense of community.”
Although Bentley always enjoyed art, she first became truly interested in art history during a year-long study abroad trip to Austria as a college student. Already a museum studies minor, seeing countless paintings inside European museums lead her to link her minor with a major—and now a career—in art history.
Bentley says as a practicum student, she grew to love what she calls “objects.”
“I remember very well brushing a 19th century camera and learning to properly clean objects in museums,” she recalls.
She developed a love of objects and the history behind them, further propelling her in the direction of art history.
What is her favorite era of art? As an art historian, she says it is difficult to pick just one era but she really enjoys the realists in the 19th century, such as Jean-Francois Millet, Honore Daumier, and Adolf Menzel.
“I like them because it was an exciting moment in history when artist began to feel free from strict definitions of art in the academy,” she explains. “They were wanting to represent everyday people. I like that because of the mission behind what they painted.” Bentley completed her graduate studies at Notre Dame as an art history major, specializing in 19th century modernism. She enjoys the work of modernists Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Paul Klee, among others. Combining her knowledge and love of art, she secured a job as an assistant professor at the University of Indianapolis, where she stayed for ten years before coming to Missouri Southern. She says the art department size and the types of classes she is teaching at MSSU are remarkably similar to those at her previous university.
“The only change has been doing administration and the administration has been very supporting of the changes I have been making. The only thing that has been difficult is the paperwork,” she laughs.
She also looks forward to new offerings in courses in her department. She has recently proposed a Women in Art class at Missouri Southern—a class she taught at the University of Indianapolis. The course would focus primarily on women artists throughout history but would also touch on the representation of women and how they have been seen.
“It’s a class I am always excited about,” she says.