Reflections from Alumni
Art History and Visual Culture Studies Alumni of the Last Decade
Colleen Boken '19
My time within Whitman, and especially within art history was extremely life opening. I hadn’t actually planned to be an art history major when I arrived at Whitman, but with some gentle encouragement, I quickly realized that my dreams were destined to follow an art history track (with some history sprinkled in there as well).
I had the opportunity to learn in many different fashions within the program, from engaging courses that made me rethink Walla Walla, Los Angeles, the methodology of race within Art History, and Museums themselves, and into the work outside of classes. Working at Sheehan, and gaining that on-the-floor experience, and into the exhibition development experience that came about from the David Nord Award and the Adam West Exhibition at the Kirkman House Museum, I knew where I wanted to end up. A trip to New York with the department only confirmed it. Read more.
Emma Patterson ’20
I am so grateful for the home that I was able to find in the Art History and Visual Culture Studies department during my time as a student. The interdisciplinary and perpetually curious, boundary pushing and honest approach of my professors and peers have made me, in my daily life, more curious and more willing to speak up.
It is not an overstatement to say that my art history degree has changed the way that I see and think. I currently have no plans to work in the “art world”, and I do not see this as a failure of my education or a lack of love for the field. It is rather a testament to a liberal arts approach to art history that I can seek to be employed in different fields and still find my degree helpful and relevant to my professional and personal lives. Thank you so very much Whitman AHVCS!
Tressa Fallon ’20
I enrolled in an “Introduction into Art History” course my first semester at Whitman because it was a requirement for the Studio Arts Major, which I was eager to pursue. I did not enjoy my experience studying the history of art in highschool, so I was hesitant to commit to the course and even more anxious to check the discipline off my graduation requirements. Despite my initial uncertainty, the decision to remain in the class stands as one of the best decisions I made throughout my time at Whitman College.
Each day, the professor truly ‘wowed’ me. The coursework sparked my deepest curiosity and gently allowed me to fall back in love with the process of learning and being a student, which is one of the best gifts the Art History and Visual Culture Studies Department continues to promise.
After the introductory course, I was officially hooked by the extraordinary prospective courses offered by the department and the professors’ areas of expertise, humor, and goodwill. My time as a student of the AHVCS vastly expanded my perspective, benefited my repertoire as an artist, fueled my desire to learn, and strengthened my writing and habits of scholarship. It also awarded me opportunities I could never have dreamed of, such as studying for a year at the University of Oxford.
When I reflect on my time with the department, however, it is the example the professors led by, as well as the guidance and friendship they so generously shared with me, that remain at the top of my life’s gratitude list. I am now a special education teacher in my hometown of Minneapolis, MN. As I help two inspired 7th graders organize a virtual club centered around art history, it is the AHVCS department at Whitman College I have to thank!
Alicia Burr ’17
Choosing Art History & Visual Culture Studies as my major was easily the best decision that I made during my time at Whitman. I took my first AHVCS class (Intro with Professor Lisa Uddin) during my first semester at Whitman, and I was immediately hooked.
While I originally took the class because of an undefined interest in “art” generally, what truly fascinated me and kept me registering for more classes was the latter half of the acronym—visual culture studies. By interrogating the production, function, and history of objects and spaces, I found an entry point into learning about the intersection of religion, race, politics and history. In this way, I think AHVCS truly epitomizes the liberal arts education experience.
Today, nearly four years after graduating, I use the skills I developed through my AHVCS education all the time. While I am not currently working in the arts & culture realm, AHVCS has shaped how I see and think about the world (I haven’t looked at the white walls of a museum the same way since my sophomore year of college) and has certainly made me a better person for it.
AHVCS classes provided me the opportunity to think creatively and critically, own my opinions and ideas, work through complex questions in a supportive yet challenging environment, and become a better writer and communicator.
Some of my favorite memories at Whitman involve time spent with my fellow AHVCS majors. I was consistently inspired by the dedication and intelligence of the AHVCS professors, their commitment to creating a tight-knit community within the department and their encouragement of curiosity and creative thinking among students. I am so grateful for the four years that I was able to spend learning among this community.
Philip Stefani ’17
I started my career as a student at Whitman unsure of what I wanted to major in and, therefore, open to the possibility that I might study in a field that I initially knew little about. That’s exactly what happened when I decided to major in Art History and Visual Culture Studies (AHVCS) after taking the introductory course in the department. What drew me originally to AHVCS was the rigor of the methods taught and the interdisciplinary nature of the material. More than that, the collaborative camaraderie I shared with other majors and department faculty kept me excited about my work in AHVCS each year at Whitman.
While I have always loved learning, it was in my various AHVCS courses that I really became passionate and serious about my academic pursuits. What I loved most about the AHVCS courses was their specificity and the depth with which we critically explored issues of history, power, expression, and interpretation, among many others. I took inspiring classes on the cultural geography of Los Angeles, art of colonial India, the social history of photography, as well as the architectural history of Whitman and Walla Walla. These courses gave me a groundwork for critically engaging with space and images as well as understanding my own interactions with cities, institutions, and the people around me.
The discipline of visual culture studies is itself an emerging field in academia and thus leverages a certain degree of creativity in thought and method—this is certainly true of the department at Whitman and it was among the most exciting aspects of my time in the department, working at a cutting-edge in cultural studies with professors who were engaged in their own path-breaking research in the field.
Since leaving Whitman, I have taught English in China, worked in a commercial fishing operation in Alaska and now I work at a university library in Chicago. Each of these experiences has been enriched immensely by my work as an AHVCS major. I suspect my work and life will continue to take me to different places I’ve never been to before and into new fields I haven’t worked in before. The toolbox of critical thinking that I gained as an AHVCS major ensures that wherever I land I can start to make sense of the world around me, how it works, and how I can engage thoughtfully and meaningfully with it.
Brenna TwoBears ’17
All the amazing work I've done, and all that I plan on doing is in large part thanks to the support of the art history and visual culture studies department and all the work they put into helping me cultivate the foundation I'm building my career on.
My time as an Anne Ray Intern at SAR [Indian Arts Research Center, School of Advanced Research] has been life-changing. The director here, Brian Vallo, is from Acoma, one of the local tribes in the area, and he is well-known in the indigenous art world as someone who advocates for rights in these types of institutions. Half of the staff here went through the same internship I did, and are also Native with ties to the surrounding area. The rest of the employees have so much respect and determination to collaborate with tribes here, and make sure that they in turn work to uphold native artists, elders, and practices. There were so many absolutely amazing experiences that I cannot name them all, so I'll just mention a few outstanding ones: working on a speaker series, Trailblazers and Boundary Breakers: Honoring Native Women in Art; collaborating with passionate artists in the area to work with the Youth Detention Center and bring them art education; and finally, participating in a review of a part of the collection here with elders, artists, and representatives from the local tribe where the language most spoken was their indigenous language.
All of this led me to conversing with Brian about his work outside of New Mexico, including a consultancy with the Metropolitan Museum on their plans for a permanent addition to their canon of Native art. On a whim (and the encouragement of my supervisors here) I applied for some internships there, and I am beyond elated to inform you that you are all being contacted by the 2018-2019 Lifchez-Stronach Curatorial Intern in the American Wing! That means I'll be in NYC for 9 months working on their new exhibit (set to open this October), in addition to helping with several NAGPRA cases, training docents, and leading my own specialized set of tours (among other things).
Joanna Gonda ’17
I wanted to be a math major and eventually become a high school math teacher (the latter is still true). But as the end of my sophomore year approached (and my Whitman math experience became intolerable), AHVCS became the obvious choice.
AHVCS isn't just about art or history. For me, it has been about challenging everything I see, hear, think, and do-addressing how images, music, media, etc. affect our thoughts and actions. I have gained a critical eye and an intense curiosity. Moreover, I have used multiple disciplines to argue and address these issues. AHVCS is the quintessential example of a liberal arts education.
I don't have solid plans yet for next year, but I will either get a teaching job or go to grad school to get my masters to teach (in the California school system). As I write applications and reflect on my four years at Whitman, I realize that I have a lot to offer a classroom and a lot of gratitude for the AHVCS department. And as STEM transitions to STEAM to include arts and design, I am in a great spot to thrive in the classroom!
ps. my computer wants to autocorrect AHVCS to AHCHOO, lol.
Kyra Arnett ’15
During my senior year at Whitman, I counted myself among the most anxiety-ridden people on campus. I knew I wanted to work in the arts, but I wasn't sure what form that might take or how I would get there. As someone who feels most comfortable operating within predictable routines and systems, I had taken thoughtful steps toward my goal: each summer I did internships at arts organizations, and during the school year I worked in the Stevens Gallery. Graduating scared me because I wasn't sure what came next.
After leaving Walla Walla, I moved back into my childhood home. The following summer was consumed by job applications and thoughts of those applications. On more than one occasion, I found myself staring at my computer screen completely paralyzed by the weight of all the jobs I didn't feel qualified to do. To cope, I told myself that on September 1 I would start looking for something else to occupy my time, even if it meant temporarily abandoning my search for an art-related job. I was offered my current position on August 31.
I am now working as the Education Assistant at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington. Since starting about a month ago, my responsibilities have included coordinating school programs and training to lead tours and teach studio art lessons. I am looking forward to future opportunities to develop and participate in community outreach and adult education programs. This is a position that I am in no hurry to leave. I am a valued member of the museum team, and my coworkers seem willing to make space for me to grow and learn. I feel incredibly lucky to have found that.
Life after AHVCS is harder to predict. I don't really know where I will be or what I will be doing ten, five or even one year from now. What I do know is, right now, I am happy and secure. I am challenging myself to just be present in this moment.