Penny Griffin

Associate Professor of Art History
BA, Appalachian State University; MA, Florida State University

Professor Penny Griffin is originally from Sterling, Illinois, but moved with her family to a mountain town in western North Carolina where she grew up as the oldest of three children in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Following her undergraduate years, she traveled to Europe, to the places of the artists she loved, to the museums where their work is preserved and presented, stopping in Florence for two years of study and contemplation. After returning to the States to complete her graduate work, she returned to Europe, not just once but again and again to Paris and to Rome, to Barcelona and to London, not as a tourist but at times for extended periods of research and immersion. On other occasions during January terms, she has taken Salem students to view art and to explore the cultural worlds of England, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.

Not satisfied with limiting her explorations to Europe, Professor Griffin has spent time living, teaching, and studying in Japan. While studying at the Oomoto School of Traditional Art, she lived in a Shinto Shrine Complex. She attended classes in Calligraphy, Noh Drama, Budo, and Tea Ceremony (Urasenke School). She subsequently continued the latter course of study at the Urasenke Tea Center in New York. 

On another occasion, she studied Zen Buddhist meditation at Daitokuji, which is home to some of the most revered Buddhist temple architecture and the main center of the Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition (closely associated with Japan’s greatest tea master, Sen no Rikkyu).

In addition to studying intensively in Japan, she also was invited to teach there. She taught as a visiting professor at Obirin University in Machida-Shi, Tokyo. 

In the early 1990s she took Buddhist Precepts from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Thereafter, she continued to follow the layman’s tradition of attending dharma retreats offered by Buddhist nuns, monks, and academic scholars, including the Venerable Tenzin Palmo, Pema Chodron, Dr. Robert Thurman, Dr. Alan Wallace, Martine and Steven Bachelor, and His Holiness the Dali Lama.

Her advice to students considering an art history major is that art history is an interdisciplinary major drawing on information from many academic points of view. An individual produces a work of art in a particular period of history with a particular ethnic, social, philosophical, religious, literary, scientific, and political background. These, along with other human qualities, feed the creation of a painting, a sculpture, or a building. She believes art history is the perfect liberal arts major.

For prospective students of art history who may be questioning what they should expect to learn and experience, she responds with a quote from Steve Jobs. He said, “Great products are triumphs of ‘taste’ and taste is a by-product of study, observation, and being steeped in the culture of the past and present, of ‘trying’ to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then bring those things into what you are doing.”

Favorite Quote:

Buddhists care about human suffering and the cessation of suffering. Everything else is not very important.”

Person Who Inspires Her:

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Favorite Books:

1. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet, by David Mitchell

3. The Bodhisattva Way of Life (Steven Bachelor’s translation of Shantideva)