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MAY 2004

A Column Exploring College Majors
So You Want to Be an Art/Art History Major?

by Sarah N. Lynch

For Stella Zagori, a sophomore at the Parsons School of Design, art has always been her passion. But although Zagori is well versed in traditional art forms like painting, drawing and sculpting, her classes at Parson's have taken her in other artistic directions.

“I'm kind of a non-traditionalist,” Zagori said. “I don't use paint or really draw, not that I can't do those things, but I find that expression to be a little stale. I prefer using paper and fabric, and cutting things out or using transparencies, photographs, tissue papers, glitters or any translucent material.”

For students at Parsons like Zagori who are working towards their Bachelor in Fine Arts, or BFA, they must follow an extremely rigorous curriculum. Starting their freshmen year, students take required “foundation” courses: a selection of design classes which include 2D design, 3D design, drawing, digital design, art history and English composition. The following year, sophomore students have yet another set of requirements to fulfill. “At Parson's the courses are all scheduled already for you,” Zagori said. “You take the required studios, which for me are painting, drawing and sculpture every semester. Each of those is 6 hours long and three credits each...For sophomore year you kind of have to follow the curriculum, and for sculpture you have to build things out of different materials. You have to use clay, make a model out of plaster, learn how to weld and use metal in some way.”

Junior and senior year at Parsons, however, the students begin to explore concentration areas. Because Zagori is interested in “non-traditional” mixed media, she has taken to creating art out of old books. Zagori said she is the only student she knows of who creates 3D art out of books. The project she is working on right now involves hardcover books by Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield that she purchased at Strand on 13th and 3rd.

“I re-use old books and compile them into one and make compartments and sides and windows,” she said.

But while some people enjoy creating art themselves, there are others who are fascinated in learning about the history of art. Victoria Fedrigotti, an art history major at the School of General Studies at Columbia University, started out as a history major. But when she began covering the art gallery scene in Buenos Aires for the Buenos Aires Herald one summer, her interests shifted and she changed her major. Now in her senior year at Columbia, Fedrigotti has recently completed her senior thesis, which studies two paintings by Francisco de Goya. “I feel like the course that made me fall in love with art history was the Methods and Literature of Art History, which is required of all majors,” Fedrigotti said. “That was an amazing course. It was multi-departmental, it covered all time periods and all methodologies.”

Fedrigotti chose to write about Goya in part because she was born in Spain and has a strong interest in Latin American and Spanish art. Currently, she is interning in the Latin American Art Department at Christie's.

“My thesis topic was ‘Goya's Asylums and the Personal Aesthetics of Insanity,” she said. “I just looked at the two asylums that Goya painted and came up with a theory that in order to represent insanity, it has to be through an intensely personal lens because Goya encountered madness in several episodes of his life, and his art was infused with a very biographical aspect.”

Art history majors have to take survey courses that teach them about art from different time periods, including Renaissance, modern, non-western, 19th century and medieval. In addition, they must also take an art studio course.

“It makes a lot of sense [to take a studio art course] because in order to understand art history, you have to understand what is involved in the creation of art, so whether it's drawing or silk screening or print making, you have to understand what's involved in creating a work that compliments art history and vice versa,” she said.

While majoring in art and art history can be fascinating and extremely satisfying, both Zagori and Fedrigotti said it might not always open up as many career paths. “It's either teaching, or being in a museum as a curator, working at an auction house or a gallery or art journalism,” Fedrigotti said. “But I enjoy what I'm studying and I'm ready to apply it any way I can.”#

Education Update, Inc.
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