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Practicing Art History

Submitted on January 12, 2019 - 7:47pm
Anna Sexton
Anna Sexton in the Jacob Lawrence Gallery

After Anna Sexton took advanced placement history classes in high school, she was inspired to continue studying world events but hesitant to commit to history as a college major. She did not want to lose the excitement of understanding and interpreting the past to rote memorization of names, dates, and places. She was also interested in art, and she knew that the images and objects produced by different cultures and societies offered deep insights into historical periods. So, Anna combined the two areas when she signed up for both the International Studies and Art History majors in her freshman year at the University of Washington. "I thought learning history through art would provide me with a unique view of world events and societal philosophies," says Anna. "So far, Art History has done exactly that and really helps when it comes to applying my knowledge of global trends to my other major."

Now a junior, with minors in Dance and French as well as her double major, Anna applies a unique approach of visual analysis to her examination of world events. Art History teaches different approaches and methodologies for studying the way visual expression makes meaning in the world. Learning about what artists were trying to convey in their work and how that relates to the time and place in which the image or object was created gives Anna a lens with which to further understand the political, economic, and social issues of the time. Historical perspectives and context are enhanced by the power of the visual. Anna has extended that reach beyond her coursework to practical internships.

During her freshman year Anna worked at Ben & Jerry's; while scooping ice cream she met a fellow UW student completing his undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts. Anna mentioned her interest in curatorial work, and her co-worker encouraged her to connect with the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Inspired, she walked into the Gallery the day before the start of her sophomore year and volunteered to help with the installation of a graduate show. Gallery Director Emily Zimmerman was grateful for the last minute assistance and encouraged Anna to join the Gallery as a curatorial intern.

After two quarters as a curatorial intern, Anna became gallery lead and has held that position for the past year. She has been involved with installing and organizing numerous shows, including the recent Clotilde Jiménez: Apple of My Eye and Sonny Assu: Études for the Settler.

Each exhibition comes with new and assorted duties. "I've learned how to use a power drill, delivered art from the back of a van to a collector's house, and set up banquet tables of food and drink for gallery openings," Anna recounts. In addition to the practical details of organizing a show, Anna has also learned about the ethical responsibilities of curatorial work, including how to ensure that the art is displayed in the way the artist intends while still considering the fundamentals of the gallery space, visitors, and general safety.

During winter and spring quarters 2019, Anna is attending Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, as an exchange student. After graduating in June 2020, she plans to apply to law school. The skills Anna has developed through the discipline of Art History — translating from the visual to the verbal, analyzing and interpreting information, and critical thinking — and her practical experience in the Jacob Lawrence Gallery will pave the way for a future career tackling the complex and rewarding world of art and intellectual property law.

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