This is a very exciting time in Art and Visual Culture at Bates. Interest and enrollments in studio art and in the history of art and visual culture are running high, and the department’s presence in student life is greater than ever. We are, in fact, second only to the English department among the humanities in terms of the number of students who take our courses and the number of majors. In part, this stems from the fact that we have great faculty and course offerings as well as a wonderful facility, the Olin Arts Center, which we share with the music department and the Museum.
The study of art was introduced as a major at Bates thirty years ago. In 2002, we changed the department’s name to Art and Visual Culture, reflecting expanded offerings in keeping with the newest directions in the field. We now have approximately 60 active majors at any one time who work with a faculty of four professors in history and five in studio art. The curriculum in the history of art and visual culture features material from diverse cultures and time periods, and includes courses in theory, museum studies, and representations of race, gender, and sexuality. Studio offerings include courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, digital imaging and color theory. All faculty members in the department are very active in their fields outside of Bates, publishing, speaking and/or exhibiting nationally and internationally.
The major in art and visual culture at Bates is divided into two tracks. The studio courses we offer are coordinated to form a strong foundation in visual art, yet are distinctly different from each other. Our students begin by taking courses across media, and gradually work in depth in either ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, or printmaking. As they advance through the curriculum, we encourage our students to innovate and work independently, especially in courses such as Building a Studio Practice and Visual Meaning. Studio majors take a minimum of three courses in the history of art and visual culture, and many study abroad for one semester. All studio majors develop a year-long thesis with the personal guidance of our faculty, and their work mirrors the spectrum of contemporary visual practice. The studio thesis culminates in an exhibition at our museum, and senior exhibits have included installation art, representational painting, traditional etching, alternative printmaking, digital photography, functional ceramics, sculpture, black and white photography, color photography, experimental processes, as well as interdisciplinary work that combines studies in other fields. Students majoring in the history of art and visual culture are expected to complete a series of courses on diverse topics, issues, and time periods, such asBuddhist Visual Worlds, Picturesque Suburbia, Michelangelo to Sofonisba: The High Renaissance and Mannerism, and Women, Gender, Visual Culture. A seminar in theory and methods of studying art and visual culture is required, as is a senior thesis and at least one course in studio art.
The curriculum in Art and Visual Culture also invites travel. In recent years, AVC Short Terms have gone to China and Italy. On several occasions, a studio Short Term has taken up residence in Tuscany for three weeks, studying the art there and painting the landscape and architecture. Even Short Term classes essentially based on campus often have a travelling component. The museum Short Term routinely visits museums in New Haven, Boston and New York, and a recent Short Term on Thomas Jefferson’s architecture spent a week in Virginia looking at his work. In addition, each year a number of our students choose to spend all or part of their junior year studying abroad in programs which have been screened by the department to assure that the programs provide work pertinent to the students’ interests, whether studio or history.
The question is often asked, “What do you do with a degree in Art and Visual Culture?” Our students have provided a remarkable array of answers. Most of our majors, both studio and history, continue to work and study in the field following graduation, often after internships in museums, galleries, and auction houses during college. Recent graduates have entered M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. programs at leading schools including Williams College, Hunter College, Tufts, Emory, NYU, USC, the University of Virginia, the University of Delaware, the University of Chicago, and several have recently completed Ph.D. degrees at Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, MIT, and the University of Texas at Austin, and are now teaching throughout the country on the college level. Other students have careers at auction houses, including Skinner’s, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s. A 1993 graduate recently became the Vice President at Christie’s in charge of photography. After working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, other graduates have gone on to be a Deputy Director at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, an Assistant Vice President at Christie’s, and the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A 2005 graduate has just begun working in the department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after a year at the Cloisters. Others have worked at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and National Gallery in Washington. Included among the graduates every few years are those who enter graduate programs in architecture and landscape architecture or pursue advanced work in historical preservation and art conservation. A graduate who received an M.A. in landscape architecture from the University of Virginia was the recipient of the prestigious Rome prize at the American academy in Rome in 1995-96.
But of course, not all our students go on into the same field, for Art and Visual Culture majors can go in virtually any career direction, from investment banking to law, from teaching to managing a major east-coast convention center to medicine. Following the receipt of both Fulbright and Watson fellowships and two-years’ study of the art market in emerging democracies, a recent major has begun graduate work in international diplomacy. Our conversations with recent graduates show an immense range. Our majors include editors at Gourmet and Italian Vogue, a major gift development officer at Yale University, a director of international advertising for Nike, and an art conservator with his own company. Indeed, among the curators and conservators are both studio and history majors. In addition, a number of studio majors are now teaching and exhibiting nationally, usually after obtaining M.F.A. degrees. A member of the class of 1996, now in New York, has begun exhibiting videos of her award-winning performance pieces in Europe as well as the U.S. The Bates College Museum of Art has begun a speaker series that brings graduates back to campus so that they can talk about their work and help us guide current student in the development of their careers after Bates, among them our video artist.
Students interested in the arts often need and want a broader range of events than those which can be found in the department alone. The activities of the Museum of Art at the College have expanded dramatically since the opening of the Olin Arts Center. It carries an exhibition schedule which brings in at least four to six exhibitions a year, in addition to on-going displays of works from the permanent collection. The museum, moreover, is actively engaged in increasing opportunities for students to work with the permanent collection in order to give them solid experiences and training in the workings of a museum. In addition, the programs in music, dance and theatre at Bates are all strong. Finally, it is important to note in this regard, that the cultural resources of Bowdoin and Colby Colleges, and of course Portland (less than an hour away) and Boston (two hours away) are all readily accessible.
You are welcome to contact us if you have further questions about the program in Art and Visual Culture.
Trian Nguyen, Chair
Department of Art and Visual Culture