Department of Art and Art History Special Program

Students find la bella vita in Tuscany

Wed. August 27, 2014

Group of students on tour

Every summer, students in the Department of Art and Art History leave the confines of the UT Forty Acres for the Italian countryside. Through the department’s Learning Tuscany study abroad program, students spend six weeks in the region to experience Italian culture, see famous works of art, and surmount the hurdles of doing laundry in a foreign country.

“I want the students to ... push themselves to use both the challenges and charms of Italy to develop an increased self-awareness and confidence,” said Art History professor Ann Johns, who has managed the Learning Tuscany program since 2006.

Johns travels abroad each summer with a colleague from Studio Art—this year, professor Leslie Mutchler—and leads between 20–25 students through Italy. The program’s home base is in the small town of Castiglion Fiorentino, but they also travel to area cities such as Florence and Rome.

“I was striving to engage students in an active investigation of Italy and the phenomenon of travel through the process of making handmade books and zines,” Mutchler said, “I wanted our students to broaden their understanding of art (and themselves) in the context of travel.”

Mutchler asked the students to collect printed ephemera. They then constructed mobile wunderkammer to house and curate those collections. Cara Stamp, M.A. candidate in Art History, said of Mutchler’s assignments, “Her planned projects really forced us to get to know Italy and especially our hometown, and it was a much-needed push that really brought the trip to the next level.”

The students are not the only ones who face challenges in Italy. “It can be very difficult for me to talk to students on-site,” said Johns, “For example, we can't talk in the Sistine Chapel. We also visit museums, such as the Vatican museums or the Uffizi museum, that are so huge that it's virtually impossible to keep everyone together.”

To solve this problem, Johns created a series of venue-specific podcasts that serve as individual audio guides. She explained, “The podcasts allow students to move through large collections at their own pace and listen to ‘me’ when they've arrived, for example, in the Raphael Stanze in the Vatican Museums.”

Mimi Richardson, B.F.A. candidate in Design, found the recordings helpful. “It made visits in the museum pleasant, as you could tune out all of the distractions around you by just using your headphones. I loved that I could move at my own pace and linger on what seemed most interesting to me.”

Learning Tuscany students and faculty take group picture in front of building

Learning Tuscany provides a foundation from which the students explore Italy independently, Kristyn Coster, B.A. candidate in Studio Art, said, “By providing a few language lessons and allowing us to figure out certain aspects of Italian life on our own, we developed a closer bond with the culture and the people.”

"Traveling to an alien place has a way of erasing social barriers and allowing you to forge truly awesome friendships,” said Allie Swaar, B.F.A. candidate in Studio Art, “Sharing an incredible, terrifying, and wonderful experience with people I would have never come into contact with in Austin, but who will now remain my friends for years to come.”

More information:

  • An exhibition of artworks by the Learning Tuscany students will be on display September 19 through October 3 at the Visual Arts Center as part of Fieldwork Projects.
  • Meet the 2015 Learning Tuscany class with the Flying Longhorns on a 14 day trip with tours lead by faculty from the Department of Art and Art History.
  • Listen to Learning Tuscany podcasts on iTunesU (link will open in iTunes).

Celebrating 75 years

Mon. April 28, 2014

Alumni and faculty surround cake in visual arts gallery
Alumni and faculty celebrate 75 years

The Department of Art and Art History celebrated its 75th anniversary on April 5, 2014 with an open house and alumni reception. Our faculty, staff and students offered over 25 activities during the open house. More than 200 guests enjoyed activities including letterpress demonstrations with the Rob Roy Kelly collection, tours of The Color Inside, a skyspace by James Turrell, an interactive timeline of the department’s past 75 years, art history graduate student debates, and construction of an alfombra.

Following the open house, the department hosted an alumni reception held in the Visual Arts Center. Over 200 alumni were in attendance. Every decade since the department began awarding degrees in the 1940’s was represented and two alumni were present from our very first graduating class!

It was with great excitement that the department opened its doors to the public and reconnected with its alumni.

2014 Eleanor Greenhill Symposium

Fri. April 25, 2014

Student presents to audience in lecture hall
Eleanor Greenhill Symposium

The Department of Art and Art History and the UT-Austin Graduate Art History Association held the 2014 Eleanor Greenhill Symposium on March 29. To an audience of the university community, prospective graduate students and scholars, current graduates present their research at this annual symposium. Roja Najafi, doctoral candidate and Vivian L. Smith Foundation Fellow at The Menil Collection, states that, "dialogue is the core of the Greenhill symposium. And to me, the Greenhill Symposium not only signifies the quality of research at our department, but also the progressive mentality of scholarly process."

Students submit papers for consideration to a committee of art history graduate students and faculty. Selected papers are reviewed by the committee for feedback and the students rehearse their presentations before the event. Through this process, students gain invaluable experience in their presentation skills and additional responses to their topics.

Jeannie McKetta discussed Cy Twombly and L'Esperienza Moderna. Elliot Lopez-Finn presented on Defining the Red Background Style: The Production of Object and Identity in an Ancient Maya Court. Ann Merkle spoke about A Tall Building, Artistically Considered: Dubai's Burj Khalifa and Louis Sullivan's Vision. Cody Castillo discussed A Monument of Egyptian Triumph: The Iseum Campensis and the Reign of Agustus. Roja Najafi presented on Responses to Cubism: Material Allusions of the Three Jeans of Tachisme.

The Eleanor Greenhill Symposium occurs annually and allows graduate students the opportunity to present their research to the larger university and scholarly community. The symposium was named in honor of Dr. Eleanor Greenhill, a distinguished Medievalist who served as faculty at the Department of Art and Art History until 1985.

Department of Art and Art History Celebrates 75th Anniversary

Mon. March 3, 2014

archival photo of people in painting class

The Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with an open house, Saturday, April 5, 2–5 pm and alumni celebration reception. Inaugurated as the Department of Art in 1938, the department now supports degree programs in Art Education, Art History, Design and Studio Art, internationally recognized research centers and the Visual Arts Center, a vibrant exhibition space for contemporary art.

The 75th anniversary is a prime opportunity to reconnect with alumni and friends of the department, as well as learn about emerging technology in the arts. Alumni, the university community and the general public are invited to participate in a variety of demonstrations of new technology, view student art, hear presentations, take part in family friendly activities and more.

Following the open house, an alumni reception will be held in the Visual Art Center’s galleries. For more information on attending, please contact Katie Anaya,

Looking to the future, the department’s comprehensive programs speak to the rich academic experience fostered by the department’s faculty, students, alumni and The University of Texas at Austin as a whole. “The 75th anniversary represents the perfect time at which we can celebrate the shared history of our department’s community. We’re excited to engage with our alumni, along with our faculty and students, in continuing to create the very best environment for the practice, study and critique of the visual arts,” said Jack Risley, Department Chair and Ruth Head Centennial Professor.

Please visit for more information on anniversary events.

Activities during Explore UT

Mar 1

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