Annual art history symposium celebrates student scholars

Geneseo’s Department of Art History and the Art History Association celebrated its best and brightest scholars on Friday April 7 at its eighth annual Art History Symposium.     

The afternoon consisted of one guest speaker and five student speakers who presented on their respective research efforts, culminating in the gift of the Pam Eder Memorial Art History Prize awarded to one hard-working student. 

Guest speaker Rachel Kousser—a current professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY—gave the audience an explanation of her paper, “Black is Beautiful: The Materiality of Sculpture in Hellenistic Egypt.” Kousser’s interest was sparked when “the dark stone queen” was discovered during an underwater excavation. The statue is an intriguing mixture of ancient Greek and Egyptian styles, and made of a dark stone material. 

Kousser soon set out to find an explanation behind this combination of styles and to answer the question, “Why is black beautiful in Hellenistic Egypt?” Kousser has just released her book, The Afterlives of Greek Sculpture: Interaction, Transformation, and Destruction, which goes into more depth about how the ancients used their sculptures in their everyday lives. 

English major sophomore Raina Salvatore followed Kousser with her own presentation, entitled “Rape Culture in The Rape of Europa.” Titian’s painting The Rape of Europa draws on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the Roman god Jupiter disguises himself as a bull to lure the young and innocent Europa, subsequently raping her. 

Salvatore argues that the painting places the blame on Europa in addition to normalizing the action of rape. She also maintains that scholars tend to treat Titian’s painting as an erotic work, which continues to sexualize rape instead of condemning it. 

Taking a different turn, history major and museum studies minor senior Caleb Weissman followed Salvatore, presenting his research, “Contemporary Art and the Environmentalist.” In his research, Weissman examines two current artists—Olafur Eliasson and Edward Burtynsky—whose works serve to send messages about environmentalism and sustainability. 

Weissman argues that although Eliasson and Burtynsky use very different means—Eliasson with his manipulation of man’s relationship with nature and Burtynsky with his photographic projects—they both work toward the same goal. Weissman ultimately makes the conclusion that although these artists are doing noble work, they require an already dedicated environmental audience to get their point across. 

Art history major senior Alexander Shaw presented his research on “Men in Advertising: How Media Objectifies Men.” He argues that while there is clear sexism directed at both men and women, objectification of men is less recognizable. In his essay, Shaw examines six decades’ worth of advertising, tracking the changes in how society has dictated the way men should look and act. He finds a correlation between this “forced masculinity,” and the recent influx of self-objectification, eating disorders and depression in adolescent males. 

Following Shaw was art history major and French minor senior—and winner of the Pam Eder prize—Olivia Morris. Morris’ paper, “Dear Antigone: Female Artists, Trauma, and Mental Illness,” looked at how three artists—Camille Claudel, Romaine Brooks and Frida Kahlo—translated their own personal trauma into their work. She finds that although each woman treats their personal issues differently—Kahlo does so head on, while Brooks denies it vehemently—their works all bring their past emotions into the present and act as a vessel for indescribable feelings. 

The last student scholar, communication major and art history minor senior Megan Erickson, gave a presentation on her work, “The Representation of Motherhood in Art.” Similar to Shaw’s work, Erickson also followed a progression of how motherhood has been represented from past to present, with a focus on how modern women fuse their work with their role as a mother. She concludes that depictions of motherhood have come a long way, as contemporary art showcases both the positive and negative aspects of the job. 

The symposium came at the perfect time, as students are drowning in work and busy studying for finals. Hearing the success of fellow students is the encouraging push we need to get us through to May.