From the Writers: Our Beginnings

How did we begin?

In the months following college graduation, Tiffany was very homesick for her art history classes. She missed her professors, she missed the conversations in classes and she missed her friends. She worried that she didn’t appreciate what a privilege those classes were until it was too late and might never get the opportunity to have those experiences ever again. About to start as a science graduate student, when would she ever talk about art again? Living in Boston with most of her friends scattered, how would she ever feel that camaraderie again?


That’s the story of how this blog began and this month we’re sharing with you how we began our academic careers and more specifically, how we got drawn into the fields we love today.

Tiffany Chan (20th Century Architecture): If we are going back to REAL beginning, it would have to be when I had the same fascination that kids often do with Ancient Egypt and mummies in grade school, which branched out to include Ancient Greek mythology. When I learned about art in high school, I fell in love with the idea of Vermeer’s paintings, such that when I stepped into my introductory art history course, I had every intention of slaying the Northern Renaissance section-finally realizing my true passion in art history. Surprisingly, I didn’t. And I went on for several more courses and even though I kept coming back to take art history courses, I was starting to wonder if I shouldn’t focus more on the science portion of my degree, which seemed more relevant to day-to-day life. I still remember thinking that my first architecture class was just going to be something I took to fulfill my distribution requirement for “Modern/Contemporary” art (thanks, Art History department). I can’t tell you exactly when my mindset switched but at some point, this course revolutionized the way I thought about not only art history but the world I live in. I spend 99% of my day in buildings and those buildings are contingent on the science and engineering that built them. But the buildings are also contingent on the architect to make good decisions about how they should be structured and what they look like. This perfect synthesis of artistry grounded in engineering is why I keep wanting to think about our built environment. Whether we realize it or not, buildings shape a lot of our day-whether it’s the fact that you do or do not have access to natural light, that you do or do not have access to your coworkers and vice versa or that you do or do not have easy access to a different department.

Catherine Harlow (oil painting):  For as long as I can remember, I have always loved art and loved making art.  Along with reading, drawing was my favorite thing to do growing up, so I was constantly drawing and improving my skills.  Whenever I went to art museums, I would always study the paintings, mesmerized by the colors and trying to see the brushstrokes to discern how the artist painted, which is something I still do now.  As I got older, I took all the studio classes I could in middle school and high school, exhausting the course offerings.  While I had worked with paint before, I made what I consider to be my first real painting in 10th grade with acrylic paint.  I was very proud of my work and discovered the combined joy and frustration of mixing and searching for just the right color, blending from one to the next to define shape, volume, and value.  Later on in high school I dabbled with oil paint, and I loved how much slower it dried and the freedom that gave me in my artistic process.  I could take my time to find the right color and slowly and precisely blend from one color to the next.  However, without really being taught how to use it and all the other tools and mediums employed in oil painting, I found it a touch unwieldy.  When I finally took my intro painting class in college at Wellesley and was taught the full array of what you can do with oils, it was like entering a new world.  I found my element.  I love working with oil paints and haven’t looked back.

Kathryn Cooperman (Late 19th Century Art, or the “Fin de Siecle”): My first exposure to art was at age four, when I took short yet enthusiastic trips with my mom to see the Impressionists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. The large canvases awash with intricate mixtures of color always enthralled me. As I got older, and took my first serious art history class in my senior year of high school, I would learn more about the Impressionists, specifically how they composed their canvases and why they chose specific color combinations. I would learn that their use of color and subject matter had two roles: to defy all previously established philosophies of art, and to push painting forward into the modern age. From that moment, I fell in love with the idea of art and artists who rebelled against and defied tradition, and would entertain that notion as I became an art history major in college and took modern art classes. In my junior year, I became exposed to the life and art of nineteenth century sculptor Anne Whitney, who opposed accepted gender norms by traveling abroad and studying sculpture in Europe, creating a name for herself in what was traditionally considered a “man’s world.” To this day, I continue pursuing my passion for art, always keeping in mind the traditions artists sought to defy and how their works of art reflect this intention.

Claire Milldrum (archival photography): I fell in love with art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unlike Kathryn, my mom took me to science museums. Somehow, I can’t really remember now, I started going with my also nerdy friends in high school. At 17, I knew I’d study Art History. Went to Wellesley, started narrowing. Took a class Sophomore Fall, and then realized that it was photography that was my focus. I kept working in art museums, mostly in collections. I liked the research of curatorial work but it was handling each of the objects more. From there, I graduated from college and moved to Michigan with my boyfriend and landed with a part time temp job at the Clements Library. My mind kept falling in love with all the problems and intricacies of where 19th century photography lands and how it gets treated where it ends up. In the fall I’ll be hopefully go to grad school in library and information science. There I’ll focus on building not only professional skills but also my academic knowledge of photo history with the hopes of someday being a visual materials curator and photography processing curator.

Kathryn Griffith (Italian Renaissance): I had always loved my history classes in high school, so when I had the chance to take my first art history class senior year, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy it. But I fell absolutely in love with it, and especially the art of the Italian Renaissance. I found the period fascinating, studying the emergence of humanism, the “rediscovery” of classical antiquity, and the new ways artists developed to represent space and the human body. That same year, I had the opportunity to visit Italy for the first time with another class, going to Florence, Assisi, and Rome. I was thrilled to see so many monuments and masterpieces firsthand that I had only previously experienced as glossy photographs in a textbook or slides on a screen. It was after that experience that I decided to major in art history in college. I took course after course in the department, always interested in learning how a study of the visual culture of a period informs our understanding of the past. I also began working in museums, because I want to put my art history knowledge to good use beyond the classroom. I enjoy research and working with objects, but I also want to pursue a career that makes art and history relevant and accessible for people. Like Claire, I hope to go to graduate school this year so I can continue learning and pursuing that goal.

Katie Constantine (Film/Television): When I was a Freshman in college, I went through a hard time. The girls who lived on my floor harassed me for reasons I’m still not sure of. They would do things like bang on my walls for 30 minutes straight and yell intimidating things as they walked by my room. This lead to the need for escapism as well as the need to relate, so I turned to films. When I put my headphones on and turned on movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Descendents, I felt understood and as if I was not alone. It helped me get through that year and realize that I want to do the same for others. A lot of people look down on movies and television shows. They see them as shallow or ridiculous, and there are definitely some pieces of media that fit those labels, but the stories they tell and the way they are portrayed actually provide a lot of relief for people going through hard times. Since then, screenwriting has become a huge passion of mine. Understanding the ins and outs of characters and troubling situations as well as how characters react to different situations can help viewers understand the people around them. Every time I dissect a film or TV show, I feel like I’m learning a little more about humanity and the way people act and react. Not to mention, when people go to the movies, they spend 2 hours of their day putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. If I can tell someone’s story through a screenplay, and have people empathize instead of judge, then maybe more people will become a bit more understanding.  

Cover Image: The End in Mind


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