By Andrea Iaroc
I remember how I felt the first time I realized I could read… it was wonderful! It was impossible not to become the type of reader that I am; avid and focused. Whenever things get murky (intellectually, emotionally, or professionally) I tend to do extensive research until my mind is saturated with information, then I analyze it until the best course of action becomes clear to me. Recent sociopolitical events in the United States and Europe indicate a shift to the political right and a rebirth of some of the ugliest facets of human societies, which pose a threat to me and those I love. Because of these events, reading has become the most important guiding tool for my next steps as a woman of color, a professional, and an art historian.
1. For a very long time I have been divorced from the art history of the culture that raised me. My interests have focused on other ethnocultural groups that are part of my family, but not the main one. This year, in an effort to reconnect with my roots in a more meaningful way, I decided to write more in Spanish and study Colombian art history. I’ll be touching upon the basics with Manuel Salvat’s Historia del Arte Colombiano. I know that many things will be academically and culturally familiar, but there is also a lot I have ignored and hope to introduce to my mental library with love and openness.
2. On the other hand, my work within the arts and culture revolves around social justice, equity and inclusion. It may be frustrating at times but at the end of the day I am interested in meeting people halfway and understanding their motivations. I know there are tools to counteract the damage done by racist systems and ideologies to racial minorities and other marginalized groups, but guidance can go a long way to help a tired mind navigate delicate topics and delicate people. It was recommended I read Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education by Özlem Sensoy and Robin J. DiAngelo. I am hoping this type of reading helps me to intellectually empathize with those that are just learning the ropes of social justice, implicit bias, diversity, inclusion and equity.
3. Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power by Susan E. Cahan is another book that I very much need to read. It is hard to avoid the elephant in the room when it comes to art museums and the role they have played in propping up racist systems. There is a paragraph in the description of this book that states why it is important for museum and arts & culture professionals to understand equity and inclusion:
In addressing the racial politics of New York’s art world, Cahan shows how aesthetic ideas reflected the underlying structural racism and inequalities that African American artists faced. These inequalities are still felt in America’s museums, as many fundamental racial hierarchies remain intact: art by people of color is still often shown in marginal spaces; one-person exhibitions are the preferred method of showing the work of minority artists, as they provide curators a way to avoid engaging with the problems of complicated, interlocking histories; and whiteness is still often viewed as the norm.
4. It is no secret to those of you who know me that I greatly admire Dr. Kellie Jones. She won a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2016 and, to me, she is a pioneer of intersectional art history. Her book EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art is an intimate look into her and her family’s history and how it informed her curatorial perspective. I believe intersectionality is of utmost importance to help create a new and sustainable art history. I am happy that people like Dr. Jones exist, a woman that “through an array of critical interventions, is writing the history of African American art and redefining the contours of American art history in general.”(1)
5. Flavio Febbraro and Burkhard Schwetje’s How To Read World History In Art is exactly what the title says. In a previous post from my blog I explained that “just because art is at the beginning of art history does not take away from our understanding of world history. Butterfly effects and echoes… there is always a starting point not seen or understood when you are in the middle of a historical shift. 50 to 100 years later it clears up, however. Our egocentric human nature usually drives us to make grave mistakes again, collective memories are a fickle and manipulable thing.” I am also reading this book for the third time because of its juicy bits of art history gossip.
I ultimately hope that some of these readings interest you and that some of you accompany me on this literary journey.
(1) “Art History Alumna Wins MacArthur Fellowship,” October 20, 2016, February 26, 2017.
Andrea Iaroc is an independent art historian, museum professional, and Founder and Executive Director of the CORAI Project – a foundation that awards springboard grants to art historians that are revolutionizing the foundation of art history by making it more inclusive and global. Her five-year research on Jewish art iconography led to a three-year lecture series which concluded in the summer of 2015. Her current art historical focus is on cultural hybridity and identity. Andrea also writes in her blog “random thoughts and better organized concepts about what [she] sees, feels, and thinks is happening in our fragile, dramatic, and vulnerable art world” among other things. Her cultural experiences and diverse ethnoreligious family background inform her ideas, work, and life philosophy which, so far, parallels James M. Barrie’s quote: “life is a long lesson in humility”
Thanks for the shout out. I’ve left my former position at Yale College and am now the Dean of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Hope you’ve had a chance to read the book, Mounting Frustration. If you don’t have lots of time, read the intro and the epilogue. You’ll get the main argument and can read the rest over the summer.