I did not enter Agnes Scott College as an Art History major. I actually entered as an English Literature major with a career in mind. I’ve always love art and museums, but I had experienced so much success with English in high school that it really seemed to be the singular path I was taking.
Still, I was assigned an advisor in the Art History department, Dr. Katherine Smith. And of all her bits of advice during our first meeting, the importance of taking survey art history stuck the most. I was unable to take it my first semester at school because of a conflict, but spring semester, it was the first class I signed up for.
Art History survey is unlike any other class ever, much less like any other Art History class. The goal is basically to gain a visual bank of images, so that if you do take upper level classes, there is a foundation. At first the class was exciting because I was good at that. I found out after all the years of struggling with chemical formulas and historical dates in high school, that once you stuck a piece of art with information, I could learn it in a snap. I also really liked the blind exercises we did, where we would looked at a piece of art that we hadn’t seen before and tried to take from the work the time period and context.
Then we hit Masaccio. We saw his Trinity from Santa Maria Novella and it blew me away. The context of this theology heavy piece in the erudite Dominican church. The precision of the depicted architecture. And the memento mori, in the form of a tomb of Adam at the base of the painting, with an inscription in the vulgare “I once was what you are and what I am you also will be.” Either that night, or that week, I saw this post on one of my favorite websites, How to be a Retronaut.
I felt like I just got it all of the sudden. These little drawing by Michael Paulus, were these ironic memento mori. The ageless figures of cartoons aren’t aged, but deceased, and still don’t lose their nature. And that’s when I knew. I knew that survey wouldn’t be the last Art History class I ever took. I craved these visual connections and I wanted to be tasked with making them.