Senior students draw connections between artists, culture in presentations of department symposium

Studying the history of art can reveal a lot about society. The annual Geneseo Art History Symposium on Friday April 20 in Newton 213 informed its audience about the all-encompassing impact of art, ranging from the effects of alcoholism on 19th century French artwork to Beyoncé’s expression of black feminism through her music.   

The symposium began with a lecture by Director of Galleries Cynthia Hawkins. Hawkins focused on African American artist Charlotte Wilson, who had a significant role promoting female and African American representation in art. 

Hawkins talked about Wilson to impart the importance of remembering individuals who altered the art world, but ended up forgotten or neglected. Wilson—a social activist, painter, art teacher and curator of exhibits—brought other African American art into the social sphere, according to Hawkins.

Following Hawkins’s lecture, senior student speakers presented research papers that explored various parts art has played in influencing society. These papers blended  the influences of past artists and  the their modern day effects in the context of the student’s topic.  

Economics major senior Dana Fiel’s research focused on the impact of absinthe—a potent alcoholic substance—on art between 1890 and 1910. 

“The era is romanticized as a rebellious, charming and sexually liberated fantasy world, which notably included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gough and Pablo Picasso,” Fiel said. 

The second student to present was communication major senior Michelle Soria. Soria spoke about motherhood in artwork, specifically focusing on miscarriage, the death of children and the emotional change women experience postpartum. 

For example, Soria cited Frida Kahlo’s “Henry Ford Hospital” which Kahlo painted in 1932 to express grief over her child’s death.

Art history major senior Emilia Taylor-Sweet followed Soria and assessed singer Beyoncé’s Lemonade album as a statement on liberation of black women. 

Lemonade is a story of a person that may be universal, but it does not try to appeal to the experiences of all demographics,” Taylor-Sweet said. 

Beyoncé avoids type-casting of black women to express her desire for black female equality, according to Taylor-Sweet.

The fourth student presenter, art history major senior Mieko Palazzo, examined the relationship between female musicians and feminism. Palazzo discussed the tendency of ‘90s artists like the Spice Girls to reject feminism, as well as contemporary artists like Madonna who claim to support feminism, but simultaneously shame fellow women or appropriate other cultures. 

 Winner of the 2018 Pam Eder Memorial Prize for the symposium’s best paper, international relations major senior Savannah Williams presented her research after Palazzo.Williams’s paper revolved around the marginalization of Asian American women in the feminist movement and art. 

“Asian women, like other women of color, cannot build ties with white middle-class women in the feminist movement,” Williams explained.

Following all of the student presenters, art history major senior Wenxiu Zhong’s paper was read to the audience since she could not attend. The paper centered around masculinity and homosexuality, finding that the shifting cultural understanding of masculinity has decreased self-repression.

Palazzo enjoyed taking part in the symposium as a presenter and a member of the audience. 

“I think it’s really interesting to see what other students are writing about, especially in the art history department,” Palazzo said. “A lot of us have very specific interests that are diverse and interesting to hear about, so I thought this was really cool.”