‘Search for perfection’

UND music professor broadens authority in new text about fine arts in Western culture

Gary Towne

Gary Towne, a senior faculty member in the UND Department of Music in the College of Arts & Sciences, recently finished a new textbook “Perspectives on Humanity in the Fine Arts,” published by Cognella Academic Publishing. Image courtesy of Juan Miguel Pedraza.

UND Professor Gary Towne is a musician at heart.

But he spends a good part of his time researching and writing about music history and related topics in the arts.

Towne, a senior faculty member in the UND Department of Music in the College of Arts & Sciences, recently finished a new textbook, Perspectives on Humanity in the Fine Arts, published by Cognella Academic Publishing.

It’s a broad-brush look at the arts in Western culture.

“My aim was to help students—and other readers—to understand times and places by studying their unique forms of artistic expression,” said Towne, who’s an expert in the culture and music of the 16th century (Renaissance) in Bergamo, Italy.

"Perspectives on Humanity in the Fine Arts," written by Gary Towne

“Perspectives on Humanity in the Fine Arts,” written by Gary Towne

The book ranges from prehistory to the 20th century.

“The point of my book is to use a variety of art forms to deepen students’ understanding of each culture’s ideals, aspirations, and search for perfection,” Towne said. “By studying a diverse grouping of arts within a specific geographical and historical niche, the reader can experience each culture as a contemporary participant might and gain a fuller understanding of that culture.

“Since I have found that my students lack the historical knowledge, I also touch on the high points of Western history,” Towne said. “I have always loved history, books and the arts, so this project combines them in a book that uses the arts to reinforce and deepen students’ historical understanding.”

In other words, using the arts to illuminate history through in the cultural experience of the people of the time.

The motivation to write a text?

“I’ve been teaching this course since 1999, using a mixture of various texts and materials,” said Towne, “but as my approach has become more individualized, my unhappiness with existing texts increased.  Then I was approached by the publisher and decided to go ahead with a book.”

And the rest is art history—a win-win for both professor and student.

More about Towne

Towne earned his bachelor’s degree in music theory at Yale University and his Ph.D. in musicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has taught music history and theory, historical performance and interdisciplinary courses on the arts and culture. He’s also twice received a Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation grant and was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar. Towne, who has written extensively on the music and composers of Bergamo, Italy, and his interest in period music in Bergamo, is known for discovering a previously unrecognized sixteenth-century organ manuscript.

Story by Juan Miguel Pedraza, for the UND Division of Research & Economic Development