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Undergrads in a Grad Seminar

Submitted on April 7, 2022 - 2:54pm

Background

During winter quarter 2022, Art History Honors undergraduate students, Em Chan and Alexander Betz, engaged in the newly designed graduate seminar ART H 500 (Methods of Art History) taught by Professor Estelle Lingo. Lingo is the current chair of the Division of Art History and also holds the Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Chair in the Arts. Art History Honors students have the opportunity to complete this seminar to experience a taste of graduate level coursework in the discipline and gain exposure to the various methodologies used by our Art History faculty. Alexander Betz is a senior completing a bachelor's degree in Art History and a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry with the addition of a Classical Studies minor. Em Chan is a junior completing a bachelor's degree in Art History with a minor in English. Here are their reflections from Methods in Art History.

Interview

What was Art History 500: Methods about and why did you take it?

Em Chan: The class was originally intended to give students an overview of how Art History methods have developed over time, as if to provide a prescriptive list of acceptable approaches to research, writing, and study. However, Professor Estelle Lingo wanted to restructure the course in a way that was less instructive and more a self-reflexive examination and discussion of these methods. Each class session brought in sources from a different Art History faculty member that applied to methods in their own specific field of study, to highlight new, developing, and diverse methods, and also how methodology can connect across areas of knowledge. I took the course by recommendation from one of my instructors, but quickly realized how useful this kind of class format was to my own trajectory.

Alexander Betz: The most difficult question that came up for me in this course, and one I still don't have an answer for, is what is art history not about? Throughout this class, the diverse range of topics and considerations that came up broke every demarcation line I had in my head about where the limits of art history's reach may be. Instead, I found that this course was about showing up every week and being reminded that, despite all of our best efforts, we had got it all wrong - and realizing that was the most exciting part! Through getting it wrong over and over again, it helped me to find that getting it right was in fact not the point of it at all. Instead, the methods class showed me that practicing mindfulness and staying open to new ideas and interpretations of what expression and interaction can be is a gift that will endlessly bear fruit.

What was your experience like in this course? Any important takeaways or highlights to share?

Em Chan: I entered the course a bit daunted by the fact that it was a graduate level class, but soon realized that everyone involved, including the instructor, was really dedicated to fostering a welcoming, non-judgemental environment when it came to contribution to discussions. Professor Lingo stressed from the start that this was a space in which we could all learn from and listen to each other, herself included. The class became a great opportunity to learn from and alongside people from widely different backgrounds, levels of education, and areas of specialization, which I don’t think happens nearly enough in academic settings. My favorite parts of the class were when my peers could talk about their specific experiences, research interests, and accomplishments within their areas of study, because it allowed us to see how the methods we were studying could be and have been applied to support the things that people are passionate about.

Alexander Betz: My experience in the Art History 500 Methods course was a constant reminder of the need for my own humility as a student within this discipline. As each visiting lecturer came to present upon their field of study, I found myself challenging my own preconceived notions on what art history was about and where its goals should lie. Throughout this course, I found myself coming face to face with issues of eurocentrism, gender studies, environmental change, and so much more. What made this course stand-out was how it not only opened up these difficult subjects, but also provided tangible frameworks for how we as art historians may confront and be mindful about them while writing and conducting our own research. I took this course to supplement my understanding of the tools available to me as an art historian, but I found myself walking away with a newfound respect for the need for empathy and transparency in my engagement within art from a myriad of communities and identities throughout space and time.

Will this course impact you in the future, and if so in what ways?

Em Chan: There aren’t any methods courses required for Art History undergrads at UW, and for a while I was conducting my studies without a solid methodological knowledge base that I could draw from, so I’m glad that I could take this course to establish this. However, more than that, my biggest takeaway from this course came from hearing about the special interests of my peers and instructors. Art History as a discipline may appear stuffy and academic from the outside, and in many ways still is, but beneath that there is a vast, burgeoning network of interdisciplinary, innovative, and highly relevant interests that are driving future research. It’s important to know that researching and discussing what you love and what inspires you is not selfish or a waste of time, but rather the building blocks of what Art History is changing to be.

Alexander Betz: This course will impact me greatly in the future, for I know that it already has. There was a moment in this course where we stopped for a moment to consider art history not as a narrative culminating to some final vanishing point, but instead as a space in which we can celebrate and explore the limitless possibilities afforded to us by arts and education. I hope to take this perspective with me into all that I do, where the joy of a study is not some day-dreamed destination but instead the love of waking up every day and practicing it.

As you approach graduation, do you have any advice to share with current and prospective students about the value of an art history degree?

Em Chan: Don’t be afraid to do your own research and explore! The UW Libraries has a massive online database of resources that you can access for free, and a really nice keyword search system to help you find just what you need. I feel like I can’t plug this system enough. If you hear about something in your class that seems interesting and you want to learn more, use the library! You can find not only academic articles but videos, books, artworks, primary accounts, and more. I think it’s important to try and liberate the concept of “research” from a strictly classroom setting, and try and think about it as something that you control, and that can absolutely apply to your own interests outside the classroom, whatever they may be. The more you develop your interests, the more you’ll know where you want to take them in the future.

Alexander Betz: My advice is to have fun with it. For whatever reason it may be, if you feel that art history will be valuable to your pathway through education and out into the world, then it will be. Do it for you, for yourself, and no one else. In this way, you may find that the pursuit of what you feel passionate about can bring you into contact with so many amazing people and un-looked for opportunities. I know that it has for me, and I will be forever thankful for it. I have found happiness and support at every step along the way.

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