How I Became an Art Historian

Studying abroad in London I saw elementary aged school children wearing reflective vests sitting on the floor in semi-circles around various paintings. They were so engaged with the art at such a young age. I watched them ask questions about the Warhol paintings on the wall. Questions that I couldn’t have asked at such a young age.

While the kids living in cities are so fortunate to be surrounded by incredible galleries, I grew up in a different environment. My parents owned a horse farm in rural Missouri, a few hours away from the major institutions of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Our local state park has a small museum that tells the history of the area. I have vague memories of visiting it once or twice while on elementary school field trips. With the exception of zoos, I don’t recall visiting any institutions until I went to Europe after my high school graduation.

I went to Europe with one of those tour groups that cater to college-aged students that paid for the entrance fees to specific museums. The first ticket they paid for was at the Louvre in Paris. And this is the first time I actually recall visiting a major institution. I’d like to admit that I only went inside because it was a rainy day and I didn’t feel like getting drenched. To say the least, I wasn’t mesmerized by the treasures or the architecture and I couldn’t wait to leave. I remember looking at the Death of Sardanapalus and literally having no reaction (last time I was at the Louvre I remember looking at the same painting and feeling so much). On this trip we also visited the Vatican and the Prado, both of which had little effect on me.

In my first year of college I realized that my initial career goals of becoming a music therapist wasn’t the path that I envisioned for myself. So, I started exploring my other interests.

Since childhood I had always been interested in photography and I was on the yearbook staff in high school. I thought that maybe I could be a photographer, or major in graphic design during my second year of college.

After enrolling in the art program, I quickly learned that even to be a photography major I had to take a bunch of drawing and painting courses. So I begrudgingly signed up for them. Besides three years on the yearbook staff I had never taken an art course, and I was in way over my head. The first semester of the art program was rough, but I learned and adapted, but I was by no means a good artist.

Second semester I was allowed to enroll in a design course and a photography course. Finally, something I was interested in!

Then, I learned that I had to take an art history course as well. My friend took the same course the year prior and gave stellar reviews of the course material and the professor. Even so, I was not excited. I didn’t want to sit in a dark room and pretend to care about paint splattered on a canvas (looking at you Jackson Pollock). I thought that every class period would be like the torture that I endured at the Louvre.

But I went to class anyway.

By the end of the first two weeks of the course I was hooked. I learned that art history is just a bunch of fun facts pieced together to form a coherent history of the work. Plus, looking at art on a huge screen was so interesting. The professor pointed out so many details that went unnoticed to me. I loved having no knowledge about the subject matter and being totally immersed in learning something new. I even recognized some of the works that I saw from my visit to Europe years prior.

Throughout the second semester of my sophomore year I learned that I’d always been interested in art history, I just didn’t know it. In high school, history was one of my favorite subjects. I loved learning about changing cultures and the forces that changed them. I’ve also always loved writing, and researching for papers. While I wasn’t interested in art in high school, I was interested in the design aesthetics associated with yearbook.

Looking back it makes so much sense that I became an art historian, even without any formal art training as a child. Now, four years later I can’t imagine doing anything different and I’m so thankful that my path ended up here.

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