Questions compiled and asked by our members, answered by Professors Derek Burdette, Akiko Walley, and Maile Hutterer from the Department of the History of Art & Architecture in the School of Design.
What did you do this summer?
DB: I spent most of my summer leading a study abroad program in Rome. We took 16 students from the UO to Rome for 8 weeks. It was great.
AW: I went to Japan and Korea twice, mostly for research but also to participate in a conference. We had to cut the trip short because my husband fell off a staircase.
MH: I spent my summer madly finishing revisions on my book and then I played with my children Matilda and Phoebe. Then came back to make syllabi.
How did you figure out this is what you wanted to do?
DB: When I went to university I thought I would study print-making. The basic art class was miserable. It was designed for people who had never done anything. Can I test out of “where is the front end of the pencil?” The answer was: No. Art history classes were the ones I wanted to do the homework in. Art History degrees are non-linear and they don’t require a sequence. Like a lot of major life decisions, it just seemed like it happened. When you decide to go to grad school is when you make a plan.
AW: I have BA and MA from a Japanese University. Usually art history in a philosophy department but it happened that art history was in the history department. I drifted towards art history in my junior and senior year. I wanted to go to a program that was totally open so I could do other things and take anything related to Regional studies: East Asia. No matter what I did, all my papers came out to be art history.
MH: UCSB for undergraduate and went to be pre-biology because her family was “science or fail.” I was in chemistry lab and I hated it. I took art history and hated it too and wanted to drop it. I ended up really enjoying it. My professor was a short, animated guy and was obsessed with Romanesque architecture. I felt a sense of community that I didn’t find in science. Art History gave me the time and resources I needed. I had a great mentor at NYU and was able to find a great community. That’s how it happened.
How did you pick an advisor?
DB: I don’t have an illustrative story that would be helpful. My undergrad, the faculty was selected for me. In grad school, you have to do things for the first time. By the time it’s over you are on to the next thing. I picked two schools and my advisor was already selected. But check before you go.
AW: For my BA, it was simple, there was one professor. My advisor was one of the most prominent scholars of Buddhist art. When I chose to go to grad school in the US, he said “It’s not really about advisors, it’s about facilities and opportunities.” Harvard has a good library and it turned out to be good advice for me. I like to do things on my own. When you go to a school because you are a fan of your advisor, it may be hard to get out of his shadow. All of my advisors had something related to what I wanted to do. Because my mentor was the expert in my field, it was hard to get out of his methodology. The lesson is: whatever worked is the right way. Do whatever is best for you. Now that we are on the other side, we try to look beyond the application. Apply to places that are right for you.
MH: I did a senior thesis in my undergrad. I highly recommend it. I gravitated towards my advisor because of the classes I was taking. I didn’t know how to apply for graduate school, no one taught me. I didn’t understand that you went to faculty that were working on things you are interested in. I went to NYU to work on trecento painting when no one was working on that. My path became a natural fit over time. Embrace the happy accidents.
How do you write a statement of purpose?
DB: Pick who are going to work with based on the topic they study. The best you can do is articulate what is motivating you to try to get there. There must be a reason that you are applying, try to figure out how to be honest with yourself and write a compelling essay. The challenge is to create the narrative of “this is where I am now” and “this is how I will leave when I exit your institution.” The number one pitfall is to make it all personal and not enough statement.
AW: If something personal is so important, but you have to be a really good writer, so we don’t just skip this part. Every paragraph counts, why are you telling us this? If you can fit it in, then great it might grip us. Customize for each school. Don’t send ten of the same statements. If you have the means, visit the school so you have something to write about. Arrange a visit with a graduate student and ask them to show you their statement of purpose as a model. We are looking for the trajectory, everything has to make sense. Think about your statement early. Take classes that convince the school you want to go to, that they should pick you. Think backwards as soon as possible. Know exactly what you want to do so you can maximize your time and resources. I didn’t do it, but you should!
MH: I think that the personal statement is the one document that you will write over and over (grants, internal to the department). People get hung up on the personal, it is not in fact personal, but professional. You are providing a narrative example of your resume. What you have done (academically) and what you want your academic achievements to be in the future and how going to that school will help you in the future. I’m not looking for someone to tell me how struck they were by a beautiful painting, I’m looking for can you come into this difficult program and be successful. We are going to expend resources on you, can you achieve success?
Have you worked in exhibitions or with a gallery?
DB: There are lots of jobs in museums that no one talks about: registrars, prep, art handling.
AW: After I did my MA in regional studies, I spent a year working interning in a museum, Asian art gallery and art specialized library. The library was incredible exposure to new books, more than any other time in my life. Becoming a librarian wasn’t for me. I wasn’t meticulous enough. Interning for the museum was a nightmare. The amount of non-art related work was enormous. You need interpersonal skills that I didn’t feel comfortable having. The gallery was wonderful. I got along with owner quite well but it’s harsh because the economy was going down and sales were dwindling. It felt like it wasn’t the reality I was ready to face. You have to have the aesthetic sense to display the works. Once I got into a PhD program I felt teaching was right for me. I thought maybe this is what I want to do right now. No one has a skill set for the job when you get into a job. An internship helped me decide if I want to develop this skill set.
MH: If you want to do museum work, do it as soon as possible. They (grad schools/museums) are going to want to see experience. I have many friends who taught as grad students and instead they went into museums. We are a subset because we like teaching.
Most rewarding/challenging of academia?
DB: It is a hard process to re-evaluate success. Hearing how to get better is hard. All three of us like to teach and there’s something that feels good. For me teaching, I like the creative aspect of course design.
AW: If you become a professor you will be on a nine-month salary, that surprised me. That’s tough. You will be evaluated/paid based on your teaching and you have to do research. That feels disjointed.
MH: Perpetual rejection. I was a high performing student and I had a reasonable amount of success in graduate school. Sometimes it’s not just rejection but critical feedback. I am constantly coming to terms with my areas for growth. None of us our perfect and at every place we are told where we are wrong. It is a continual process of learning. I thought that I would get to a place where everything would be gold, but it’s not like that.
How do you prevent burn out?
MH: Take a month off to play with your kids. I’ve been working on my book for years. I turned it into my editor and it wasn’t practical for me to keep working on it. Crossfit.
AW: I have 5 different projects simultaneously to prevent burnout. That way I’m working without over working. During the school year you have certain obligations but outside of those times, you can decide what to do with your time. The sooner you learn your limit, the better.
DB: As a professor, you have more time and flexibility but there is some pressure to take all the free time and turn it into work time. In a 9-5 you go home and you are done. With academia you can always be working. It’s cyclical. Balance, have loving partners, you have friends and family, social engagements. Have other people in your life.
DB: I have no talents.
MH: I learned how to do a handstand push-up this summer.
AW: I can speak Japanese, I am fluent.