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Meet a Real Art History Major

Name: Deborah Gangwer

Education: John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, California, Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts;attended Pacific Union College, art history major;University of California at Davis, Master of Arts in art history

Location: Napa Valley College in Napa, California

The Job: As a part-time art history instructor, Deborah spends a lot of her time researching for her lectures. She reads to supplement her lectures, researches art from various periods, and makes her own slides for class.Deborah began teaching last fall, but has been working in the art history field all along. She used to be an arts administrator for the university gallery collection at UC Davis. There she helped curators and directors assemble exhibitions.She’s also been a volunteer research assistant for the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection at the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts displayed at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. She researched objects and images in the collection, gathering information.Deborah is also a guest lecturer for the Women Artists course at Pacific Union College.

Words to Live by “One thing I hold dear in my spiritual life is the creative process that’s part of the core of our spirit. Manifesting it and sharing it with others is an important part of my spiritual life.”

Art History for you?

Consider Art History as a college major if you're crazy about:
• adore art (we’re not talking Sunday comics here)
• are detail-oriented (but can appreciate the sum of the parts)
• enjoy history (accompanied by pretty pictures)

Avoid Art History as a college major if you get nauseated by:
• hate memorization (yes, you’ll have to know dates)
• scorn slide shows (and sitting in dark rooms)
• can’t stand research (good luck finding a major that doesn’t require it!)


Art History Major

I stumbled into a dark classroom, trying to slip in unnoticed. The professor continued to speak into the dim light, and I struggled to take notes.

How am I gonna get through this class? I thought to myself. Doesn’t lights off mean bedtime?

Then suddenly there was light. Bright colors shone in two squares on the wall. The shapes formed vivid pictures of ancient stories—Mary being visited by a glowing angel, a triumphant Jesus entering the gates of Jerusalem, and long panels depicting Old Testament adventures.

“Notice the rich colors, the ruby reds with blues,” my professor pointed out. “And the lightning streak-like pattern going through Jesus’ clothes. This is typical of Duccio’s style.”

Duccio—in case you didn’t know—was a painter during the Italian Renaissance. He preceded more well-known artists of the age, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raphael Sanzio.

All of them were of great importance in the Italian Renaissance art history class I took. For nine weeks my professor lectured on the slow but significant evolution from the art of the Middle Ages to the renowned Italian Renaissance. He talked about the development of chiaroscuro (shading to give figures depth) and scientific linear perspective (techniques to give objects and backdrops depth). And though the lights may have been off in the room, my mind grew brighter by the second.

Just as people study literature to discover the author’s intent, symbolism, and structure, they study art for the same reasons. A painting may initially be just visual stimulus, but art historians delve into the background information, researching the artist, the time period, the technique, and its meaning. You could say this: If a picture paints a thousand words, then the art historian finds the words!

Brandi Brashears is a senior art history major at Pacific Union College. During History of Western Art, a general education course that takes a sweeping look at European and American art through the ages, Brandi fell in love. Here’s her love story.

On Course: What attracted you to art history?

Brandi: I came to class, and there were all these gorgeous pictures of art. I went up to my professor afterward and asked him if this was something I could major in. He said that yes, it was a major at PUC, but not many people choose it.

OC: What careers are there for art history majors?

Brandi: Most people think of working in museums or teaching—those are the big ones. But you can also get into archaeology and anything related to that.

Some art history majors become history professors, some become art teachers, others do restoration projects (help restore such things as the Sistine Chapel). Some gointo interior decorating or set design for movies and plays.

OC: What do art historians do in museums?

Brandi: You could be a curator—the person in charge of what artwork is part of the collection and how it will be displayed (making sure the lighting is right for the work, etc.). Or you could be a restorer—someone who constantly makes sure the artwork isn’t fading, decaying, or crumbling.

OC: Do art majors open their own galleries?

Brandi: Some do, but it takes a lot of money and connections. You also have to have a collection or know someone who has one and is willing to let you display it.

There’s a man named Rene di Rosa who lives in the Napa Valley and started collecting art. He collects only Bay Area (San Francisco) art and now has more than 1,000pieces. He opened a gallery in his home.

OC: Yeah, it’s called the di Rosa Preserve. Don’t some art majors do internships there?

Brandi: Yeah. We have to earn three credit hours by volunteering nine hours of work a week at either a gallery or museum. I chose to work at di Rosa.

Once a week I attended a four-week course and became a docent, a museum guide. At di Rosa they don’t have names on any of the artwork, so my job was to walk around and answer questions and make sure no one touched anything.

OC: Graduate school is definitely a must, right?

Brandi: If you want to teach or work in a museum, you have to go on to graduate school, pick a specific period, get into that period, and maybe get a Ph.D.

But art history is also very good for archaeology, restoration, and pretty much any job. It makes you well-rounded.

OC: Why is that?

Brandi: Art history helps you see how people see things. You learn to think in terms of aesthetics—what people find beautiful—and you become more aware of your surroundings by picking up on details.

OC: Do all art classes consist of looking at slides in a dark classroom while listening to a lecture?

Brandi: All of them except historical methodologies. In that class you learn criticism and analysis theories or techniques.

OC: What’s the best part of studying art history?

Brandi: You learn people’s motives behind art. Before I became an art history major, I’d look at art and say, “Oh, that’s nice.”

Art history helps me understand what the artist is seeing, thinking, feeling, and how history influenced them. It also makes me aware of my own art and how differentthings affect me as an artist.

OC: You’re an artist?

Brandi: Yeah. I love sculpture of any kind, which is why Michelangelo is one of my favorite artists. But not all art history majors are artists.

OC: What types of brain skills are you utilizing in your classes?

Brandi: Reading hasn’t been that important—at least not in my program. There are books that my professors recommend for their classes, but our tests are mostly basedon the lectures. So you have to be a good listener and take good notes.

There are a lot of visuals you have to memorize. For a test my professor flashes a picture on a screen, then asks us to name the author, the time period, the medium, and the title of the piece.

He gives the information to us during class and on the syllabus, but we have to be able to recall it in an instant. It’s a lot of memorization.

OC: Any writing?

Brandi: For tests we have to write short compare-and-contrast essays on two artworks the professor picks, but we don’t know which ones he’s going to choose. Inhistorical methodology I had to write two papers in which I critiqued two works of art.

Then for my senior project I have to write a paper—“a heavily researched paper”—that’s about 30 pages long and has 15 sources. It can be on an artist, a comparison oftwo artists, a work of art itself, a theory, or a time period.

OC: Certain periods in art consist of mainly religious themes. Does this impact you spiritually?

Brandi: Yes. Many of the religious themes or Bible stories are illustrated in a way I’d never thought of before. The historical context caused the artist to show thestory in a different way, and that made me see aspects of Christianity I’d never seen before.

Studying art history has really made me look at my art in a different light. I think about what I as an artist am passing on about God, and what people can seeabout God in my work.

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