See How Robert Reich Wove Thomas Cole Paintings Into A Final Class For 2020 UC Berkeley Graduates

  • July 17, 2020 12:56

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Thomas Cole (American, 1801 - 1848 ) Voyage of Life: Manhood, 1842, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
National Gallery of Art

"You're going to have to design the hoops you jump through," former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich tells his final class in the last semester at UC Berkeley. He later asks the 2020 graduates to consider: "The question is when you get to this stage what do you want, what do you want to look back on? What kind of life would you like to have had?"

Drawing on his art history background, Reich shares his favorite Thomas Cole series of allegorical paintings, "The Voyage of Life," to demonstrate life stage scenarios ahead for students. Each painting helps illustrate his points about the importance of personal resilience, the inevitability of failure, the challenge of designing your own path, and the central importance of gaining wisdom about yourself.

Detail of Thomas Cole's The Voyage of Life: Old Age.
National Gallery of Art

With the Class of 2020 graduating during an uncertain time of pandemic, political discord and growing movements for change—maybe a follow-up lecture could draw some actionable lessons from Cole's "The Course of Empire."

Watch Reich's lecture on YouTube here.

Tags: american art

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