Where are all of the Millenial Art Historians?

In the “Call to Action” delivered at the College Art Association’s 2016 Annual Conference, Dewitt Godfrey characterized CAA as an organization in crisis due to diminished institutional support for the arts and a shrinking membership base. Many of Godfrey’s points resonated with me: I agree that arts professionals and scholars must advocate for our fields and defend their ongoing relevance and significance in the midst of the large-scale restructuring of funding and labor in academia. This wave of solidarity, however, was short-lived. Godfrey appealed to the organization’s more established members to maintain their affiliation and to continue to serve the organization under the premise that “studies show millennials aren’t joiners.”

The data is there to support Godfrey’s statement: studies performed by the Pew Research Center show that members of this generation are less likely to align themselves with traditional political parties, organized religions, and civil institutions such as marriage. (Ironically, millennials are also reluctant to self-identify as millennials) While I agree that these trends warrant some level of concern, the College Art Association will need to appeal to this generation in order to ensure its viability.

Admittedly, as I listened to Godfrey’s remarks, they stung. Even with discounted membership fees and registration rates for students, the College Art Association can be expensive to maintain membership within, and his statement felt like an implicit admission that the organization does not seek to serve me. On the other hand, looking around the room, I didn’t see many others who could contradict his point.

As I considered it further, the question of the millennial art historian began to intersect with questions over the discipline’s future and its struggles to acknowledge the dynamic range of aesthetic traditions that exist beyond the Western canon and those which are favored by the art market. An important detail to consider is that Millenials are the most diverse generation in American history. Moreover, this is a generation that largely embraces the complexity of its identities, making interdisciplinary fields an inviting escape from comparatively strict categorical alliances in Art History.

For example, among college-educated millennials who pursued majors in the humanities, underrepresented students may seek out departments that have courses and faculty that resonate with their experience.  Given recent commentary by Steven Nelson and Adriana Zavala, it appears that many art history departments might struggle to meet this demand (possibly without recognizing that it exists). Similarly, for students who wish to pursue graduate degrees researching art and visual cultural traditions that do not fit within traditional art historical frameworks, interdisciplinary programs in fields such as American, Ethnic, Gender, and Performance Studies may exist as a unique intellectual space that can support their interests.

All of this is not to suggest that art historians are on the verge of extinction, but rather to suggest that there may be a lost generation among us. Speaking from my experience researching and writing about Chicanx art, many of the foundational texts on Chicanx art history were written by scholars who were not trained in the discipline. It is necessary, then, to not only consider those working within the discipline, but to seek out the scholars whose work falls under a different subject heading but aligns with our own. This practice is familiar to those of us working in the margins of art history, but this typically happens on a granular scale, and our meeting places are frequently in interdisciplinary associations.

What would the field, and CAA’s constituency look like if we made a case for an “expanded field” of art historical practice? In one case, it might resemble the U.S. Latina/o Art Forum, a recently-established organization that seeks to bring together a wide range of scholars and professionals whose work addresses Latina/o art. Alternately, it could also look like Art History That or the Material Collective, which seek to foster publicly and socially-engaged disciplinary work.

Other questions still remain: How can we make an effective case for naming oneself as a “historian of art/visual culture” within one’s multidisciplinary scholarly identities? How could the conference schedule accommodate cross-disciplinary conversations on art and visual culture? These questions are relevant to pose in light of Godfreys call for advocacy. We have to ask what vision of the College Art Association we’re advocating for and who its inheritors will be.

Before any of these questions can begin to be answered, we have to start with something a little more straightforward: fellow millenial art historians, are you out there? If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join me in starting a conversation regarding our place in the field.

A Template for a Digital Portfolio

Tomorrow is the final day of “Building a Digital Portfolio,” and with it comes an opportunity for reflection. When I applied for the workshop, I carried several vaguely-defined projects in my head that sounded interesting, but I had no idea of how to pursue them. I attended Digital Humanities events on my campus with great enthusiasm, but wasn’t sure how to engage in meaningful conversations on the projects discussed.

At the end of the two weeks (and a lot of reading!), I feel confident about my working knowledge of the field and relevant vocabularies. As for my projects? It’s a somewhat more complicated story that is best explained by framing them as short, long-term, and intermittent projects.

Short Term: 

In previous posts, I discussed the possibility of creating a map related to a dissertation chapter, and evaluated different platforms that might be able to support the project. Earlier this week, our session dedicated to mapping platforms helped me to identify what exactly I need my map to do, and how it might function within my larger project. This, however, opened a pandora’s box of questions with regard to the role of this digital tool in my dissertation. I began to wonder if every other chapter needed a corresponding tool, and how to remain consistent without becoming redundant.

As these questions were mounting, we read Paige Morgan’s essay “How to Get a Digital Humanities Project Off the Ground,” which advises against deciding hastily to incorporate a digital component into your dissertation. As a result, I’ve tabled the plan to incorporate the map into the bound version of the dissertation. However, there is still value in creating the map, which consists of a modest number of data points, and can help me to prove the chapter’s overarching argument. When I return home, I plan to begin locating historic maps of Los Angeles that I can use to overlay the generic map that CartoDB offers so as to more accurately represent the changes to the landscape of Watts between 1965-1967.

Long Term:

The idea that compelled me to apply to the workshop initially is a desire to build a database of Los Angeles artworks sited in public spaces (that don’t necessarily fall into the categories of “public” art or “street” art). This is a monumental task, and could constitute a dissertation project in its own right.

I’ve determined to call the task of building this database my “second book project,” which is a catch-all term I generally use to describe everything I’m interested in that can’t fit in my dissertation. However, after hearing Michelle Greet discuss the Transatlantic Encounters database and how it evolved in relation to her second book project, such an undertaking seems quite possible. Although I can’t dedicate a year to building the database right now, I know that I can start collecting data while researching my dissertation, and possibly even build relationships with some of the arts organizations I am writing about that have coordinated relevant projects.


In the midst of strategizing on the short and long-term, this year, I will be teaching two courses: a 70-student class on Chicana/o Art, and a 20-person course on U.S. Art and Visual Culture. In both of these classes, I plan to incorporate digital tools in various ways, and have begun reading about digital pedagogy.

For the Chicana/o Art class, I recently learned about El Museo Eduardo Carrillo, an online archive of works by an Eduardo Carrillo, an important Chicano artist who lived and worked in Santa Cruz and its related rotating exhibitions that features essays by key scholars in the field. In addition to creating an assignment that will invite my students to engage with these materials, I am also considering incorporating an image annotation assignment, as well as a “Wikipedia-editing” assignment that would be directed toward the lackluster “Chicano Art” entry after reading Adeline Koh’s piece featuring suggestions for introducing undergraduates to the digital humanities.

My U.S. Art and Visual Culture class initially planned to use Scalar as a platform for showcasing collaborative student projects, but am still considering what I want my students to take away from the course, and whether Scalar is the right platform for those objectives. Throughout both courses, however, I plan to blog about the process of introducing digital projects into my courses, so stay tuned!

All of this is to say that the workshop has left me with not only a new enthusiasm for my research and teaching, but the world of collaboration and conversation that exists within the digital humanities and digital art history. I not only feel as if I have found a community of scholars whose work resonates with my own, but that within this community, it is possible to contribute to the conversation in a variety of ways.

Mapping vs. Modeling

My project has been initially conceptualized as a map, and although we will be discussing mapping platforms next week, we have already come across several tools that can be used for this purpose. The simplest option is to insert items as markets onto a google map. However, the capability to embed media into this format seems somewhat limited, and it may be overly simplistic for the time period I would like to map to cover.

Another possibility is to upload an image of a map to a platform like thinglink, or perhaps even prezi. From there, the image could be annotated with comments and images that would indicate relevant historical change. The downside of this is that the map would be temporally static, and the map I selected would represent a specific historical moment, which may pose difficulties for showing the complexity of Watts’ spatial development over time.

Today, we experimented with Sketchup, which is a platform for creating spatial and architectural models. Sketchup has the capability to render an extraordinary level of detail. However, it shares the issue of temporal staticity of the mapping options above, and this time, I am unclear whether I be able to annotate the model.

However, modeling my project, at least initially, could offer some tangible benefits at the same time that it creates unique challenges. One advantage would be the intimate knowledge I would develop about the built environment of Watts during the 1960s that would allow me to better understand the experience of the neighborhood from both the planning and human scales.

The greatest challenge that I anticipate is selecting which moment to base the model on: would it be more advantageous to model Watts as it appeared prior to the uprising, immediately afterward, or approximately one year later? The first option may prove more difficult due to the potential lack of documentation, whereas modeling Watts in the immediate aftermath of the uprising would have extensive documentation to draw upon, allowing a comprehensive understanding of the types of structures that had been destroyed, along with its magnitude. However, I am concerned that this choice would appear to define Watts’ spatial relations as defined by absence and destruction if I can not also visualize the cultural spaces which were established in destroyed buildings during the following year. The third, and most appealing option so far, is to model Watts approximately one year later.

This inspires the question of how it might be possible to indicate destroyed or short-lived structures within these models. It appears that toying around with the options for textures and surfaces would allow for a semi-translucent exterior to be created that could indicate a structure that was no longer extant.

As a way of taking the longest route back to the starting point of this post, the need to choose between making models and creating a map can potentially be circumvented by screen capping the completed model, which could become the basis for a map that could then be annotated. There is most likely a more efficient way to combine the most desired qualities of these two platforms, neither of which were able to have the dynamic timeline I would like. However, what I have determined is that spending some time modeling Watts could be a valuable starting point.

Scalar and Omeka: First Impressions

After spending some time getting acquainted with Omeka and Scalar this afternoon, I’ve been thinking through how one might decide between the two platforms for a given project. A hunch that I have is that projects could use either platform, but that the ways that the interfaces operate will ultimately lead them to have distinct internal architectures, and similarly, will look differently, despite having similar content. After uploading a few test pages and items, it feels very much as if Omeka’s interface emphasizes individual items and options for their arrangement and display, whereas Scalar’s strength lies in the flexibility to create a context in which those same items may be related to each other in a variety of ways.

In terms the way my mind works, I feel most comfortable building a context and inserting things into it. However, in considering my mapping mini-project, it feels more intuitive to think of locations on the map as distinct items, which would indicate that an Omeka exhibition that uses the geolocation plugin would be one potential route for creating the map. I am reluctant to go “all in” however, in part because I dislike the aesthetic quality of google maps, and want to be able to do more than simply drop a few pins onto it. With regard to Scalar, it is still somewhat unclear what possibilities the interface might offer for this type of project.

Before developing my own project plan, it feels important to further articulate the unique attributes of each system and the form created by their unique interfaces. As a result, I’m thinking about building two sample projects in Scalar and Omeka using the same (small) data set as a way to further understand their nuances. Stay tuned!

Building a Digital Portfolio: Project Planning

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Sign of Neon. Noah Purifoy. Found material. 1966.

The materials that I selected to develop this project are comprised of images, ephemera, and a map of damage incurred during the uprising. These items and the proposed map will correspond to chapter one of my dissertation, which examines Noah Purifoy’s Signs of Neon sculptures that were created from the drippings of melted neon signs that had been destroyed during the Watts Uprising in 1965. After decades of spatial, political, and economic disenfranchisement, the uprising acted as a catalyst for the improvisatory reimagining of urban space. As works created from the wreckage of the uprising, the sculptures communicate the significance of improvisation as regenerative strategy in Watts, which is further indicated by the the number of cultural centers established in buildings destroyed during the unrest.

In Watts, the linkage of improvisation and the reshaping of urban space extends back to the 1930s and 1940s, when Watts and South Central Los Angeles were home to numerous jazz musicians and clubs. Despite discriminatory laws that sought to segregate different ethnic groups, white Angelenos frequently travelled to South Central and Watts to attend jazz shows. Although police frequently raided these performances, they mark an important moment where the space of the city was reconfigured and the legal speech upholding discrimination was broken by the impromptu integration of black and white Angelenos in their attendance of jazz performances.

At this stage of its development, it is hard for me to know what questions this map will answer that are different from those contained in the written chapter, as well as what their relationship is to each other. What I know with certainty is that the written chapter cannot adequately address or describe these changes while performing the task of analyzing the artworks within the theoretical frame that I have selected. A dynamic (perhaps interactive?) map can offer a sense of the transformation of the built environment over time and demonstrate the changes occurring across multiple sites within Watts in a manner that is more compelling and easily understandable than the same data presented in narrative form.

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