Department of Art and Art History News

Excerpt / Julia Guernsey and Michael Long, “Middle Preclassic figurines and ancient antecedents for themes of embodiment, fragmentation, and social order"

Thu. October 29, 2015

photo of circular stone carved with mesoamerican glyphs
The Coyolxauhqui Stone, c. 1500. Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan (Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City), photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The following excerpt is from a paper by Dr. Julia Guernsey and Ph.D. candidate in Art History, Michael Long entitled, “Middle Preclassic figurines and ancient antecedents for themes of embodiment, fragmentation, and social order." The paper will be published in an upcoming volume on witchcraft in Mesoamerica, forthcoming in 2016 from University Press of Colorado.


Even at La Blanca, where figurine fragments associated with Mound 1 were obviously not cached with care, but instead deposited along with domestic refuse, it is interesting that the structure itself — a massive symbol of the body politic — was constructed of fill that included body fragments that were linked to other disembodied parts scattered throughout the domestic space of the site. We think it possible that such practices linked the community together, not only by means of the broken fragments, but through the memory of their once complete wholes, which symbolized the communal labor necessary to construct the massive structure….

Fragmentation was also envisioned and shared by all levels of Mesoamerican society already by the Preclassic period, and enacted in both the public and private sectors. We believe that the domestic evidence of figurine fragmentation is particularly important to emphasize, because it underscores the “folk” or community-based ritual practices that served to sustain issues of personhood, embodiment, and the disassembly/fragmentation of the self. Many of the ideas documented ethnohistorically or ethnographically in later years engage with strikingly similar notions of bodily fragmentation and social integration/disintegration that are presaged by the patterns of Preclassic figurines but that, nevertheless, must be problematized within a conceptual matrix that was influenced by a European fascination with similar concerns.


Julia Guernsey received her Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1997, and has taught ancient Mesoamerican art and culture history in the Department of Art and Art History at the UT Austin since 2001. Her research and publications continue to focus on the Middle and Late Preclassic periods in ancient Mesoamerica, in particular on sculptural expressions of rulership during this time. She also continues to participate on the La Blanca Archaeological Project, which is exploring this large site that dominated the Pacific coastal and piedmont region of Guatemala during the Middle Preclassic period.

Michael Long is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art and Art History. His dissertation research focuses on the development and role of stairway monuments in Classic Maya art and politics. In particular, he investigates how the writing and imagery included with these monuments create theatrical contexts for elite interaction. In addition to his interests in Classic Maya architectural spaces, Michael also maintains research interests in the phenomenological analysis of Mesoamerican sculpture and the interaction between memory and artefact in prehistoric art.

Faculty, students, alumni speak at Art Education conference, Brushes with History

Thu. October 29, 2015

people sitting in auditorium listening to lecture

Dr. Paul Bolin served on the organizing committee for the conference, Brushes with History: Imagination and Innovation in Art Education History. The conference takes places at the Teachers College at Columbia University November 19–22, 2015.

Department of Art and Art History faculty, alumni, and students presenting include:

Dr. Christina Bain, “The Fabric of Our Lives: Discovering Art Education History Through Puppets, Place, and Pedagogy”

Dr. Heidi Powell, “Becoming a Curator of Memories: Memorializing Memory and Place in Art Making for Art Education”

Amanda Barbee (M.A. in Art Education, 2015), “Red Scaring Students: The Cold War’s Effects on American Education”

Debra Hardy (M.A. in Art Education, 2015), “The Detrimental Effects of McCarthyism on African-American Art Institutions”

Kirstie Parkinson (M.A. in Art Education, 2015), “Life and Work of Helen Gardner: Examining Art Through the Ages”

Elise Chevalier (M.A. candidate in Art Education), “Lessons From Dorothy Dunn: The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School”

Allison Clark (M.A. candidate  in Art Education), “(Re)Telling Stories in Art Museums as a Wartime Service, 1917-1918”

Rebecca Dearlove (M.A. candidate in Art Education), “The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film: How Educational Film Programs Responded to Social and Cultural Changes in the United States”

Michelle Voss (M.A. candidate in Art Education) “Women’s Work: Art Education for Women in Late 19th Century America”

Early bird registation available through November 1, 2015.

Q+A with Alexis Kraus (M.F.A. in Design, 2014)

Thu. October 29, 2015

woman in black tshirt posing for photo
Image courtesy of Alexis Kraus.

Alexis Kraus is a designer and artist living in Austin, Texas. She received an M.F.A. in Design in 2014. Kraus answered questions over email. Follow her @arosekr.

Describe your background. Why the graduate program in Design at UT Austin best fit your goals?

Alexis Kraus: I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and my experiences there continue to influence my values and goals as a designer. Although I still live and work in Austin, I maintain creative ties to Memphis and have a couple of projects in mind that I would like to live in that city.

My creative background is in both fine arts and graphic design. My undergraduate concentration was in printmaking. After college, I worked for a non-profit organization with an emphasis on public art and education. I chose UT Austin’s Design program for graduate school because I was attracted to the notion of a more holistic learning experience that aims to get designers, makers, engineers and artists out of our silos. The program encourages the creation of a theoretical framework to help position our work.

How has your work shifted (or not) from what you focused on during your graduate studies?

AK: I graduated last year (2014). So, that work is still fresh in my mind. I still consider the values that were established during my M.F.A. in all aspects of my creative work. I’ve shifted back towards agency work and art-making for the time being, but I’m also constantly revisiting a lot of the writing that I did while in the graduate program. I think these shifts have been natural so far.

Where are you now? What about your work excites you and keeps you engaged?

AK: I am currently balancing a full-time job at a digital agency here in Austin (Monkee-Boy Web) with a steady stream of freelance design work and more personally fulfilling art-making. If that sounds like a lot, it is!

At the agency, I work directly with our content strategist, conducting a lot of research into our client stakeholders and their numerous audiences. We take that research and use it to make the best creative decisions we can, based on both quantitative and qualitative analysis. That research is what I love and what I hope will continue to excite me.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

AK: I have been experimenting with laser-cut posters and books over the last couple of months. I have titled this series Tactile and will be showcasing these works at a house show during the East Austin Studio Tour. This is a singular event, one day only, to take place from 7–10 p.m. on Friday, November 14.

Q+A with Emily Mae Smith (B.F.A. in Studio Art, 2002)

Thu. October 29, 2015

woman standing in front of paintings in gallery
Image courtesy the artist and Laurel Gitlen, New York.

Emily Mae Smith received a B.F.A. in Studio Art from The University of Texas at Austin in 2002. She received an M.F.A. in Visual Art from Columbia University in 2006 and is represented by Laurel Gitlen She answered questions from undergrauduate student, Kayla Jones, via email.

Kaya Jones: Describe your background.

Emily Mae Smith: I grew up in the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg. I moved to Austin in 1997 for college and received my B.F.A. in Studio Art from UT Austin in 2002. I moved to New York in 2004 to attend graduate school at Columbia University where I earned my M.F.A. in 2006. I have lived and worked in New York since then. My second solo exhibition in New York held at Laurel Gitlen gallery just closed on October 25. In 2016 my work will be exhibited internationally at galleries in Berlin (Germany), Glasgow (Scotland UK), and Brussels (Belgium). I'm primarily a painter.

painting of a cherry next to ice cube
The Studio (Memento Mori), 2015, oil on linen, 48 x 37 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Laurel Gitlen, New York.

KJ: Congratulations on your solo show Medusa at Laurel Gitlen in New York. In Medusa you show several paintings that reference the early 1900s art publication The Studio. How did you come across this magazine? What about it grabbed your attention and made you want to incorporate it into your work?

EMS: Many of the paintings I made between 2014 and 2015 contained references to Art Nouveau style (popular during 1890-1910). The publication The Studio was a trade magazine for illustrators working at that time. I discovered it through research, and found digitized copies from an online library. I'm fascinated by that time period because a lot of the methods used today in popular visual culture and advertising were invented then. Art Nouveau used images of the female body to sell products, just like today. I have used Art Nouveau and The Studio in my work as a parody of the difficulties and conditions I have faced as an artist. I don't only paint what I like—I paint satire, ideas I want to change, or expose.

yellow painting with mirror surrounded by figures
The Mirror, 2015, oil on linen, 46 x 54 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Laurel Gitlen, New York.

KJ: Your work is beautifully rendered and can sometimes be hard to distinguish from a digitally produced rendering over the internet. Is this effect important to you or connected to the theme of looking that is prevalent in your work?

EMS: Though my paintings are very hand-made, I do not show a lot of brush strokes. My paintings incorporates a lot of smooth gradients of color and isolated images. Like the pop-artists of the 20th century, my painting sensibility is definitely informed by the seductive and manipulative visual cues presented in today's technology and advertising.

KJ: What sort of work or projects are you involved in outside of your studio practice?

EMS: Right now I'm really focused on a full-time studio practice which is totally exhilarating. It took a long time to get to that point. For many years I worked several freelance jobs to make ends meet and support my art making. I worked for artists as an assistant, did art-handling, worked at galleries, and did scenic painting. I taught painting and drawing courses at Columbia University for several years and Vanderbilt University for one semester. I enjoyed teaching and I hope to do more in the future. I attend a lot of New York arts events, gallery openings, and lectures. I support feminist causes and outreach programs for girls and underprivileged youth.

brick wall with opening showing two moons and figure with binoculars
Viewfinder, 2015, oil on linen, 48 x 37 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Laurel Gitlen, New York.

KJ: What made you decide to continue on to get your M.F.A.? What advice would you give others who might be considering graduate programs?

EMS: In undergrad I was very serious about my artwork and knew I wanted to be a working contemporary artist. I was not exactly sure how to achieve that, but I saw some steps to take. I also had good advice from my teachers. I knew that I wanted to live in New York, so attending a graduate program in the city made sense. I also wanted to know a lot more about subjects like feminism, post-modernism, and cultural theory because these would inform my artwork.

My advice is that an M.F.A. is still no guarantee to a path of professionalism because things happen to well-laid plans. For example the great recession struck right after I finished my M.F.A. and I really struggled for a long time through it. Have a passion you would like to mercilessly pursue, and if getting an M.F.A. will aid you in that quest then it makes sense to do.

Kayla Jones lives in Austin, Texas where she is pursuing a B.F.A. in Studio Art and B.A. in English at The University of Texas at Austin.

Student feedback drives funding priorities

Thu. October 29, 2015

peope standing in classroom

“Excellence depends not only on talented faculty, but also on our ability to attract the best graduate students,” remarked Gregory Fenves in his inaugural speech as the university’s 29th president. Last September, at the Department of Art and Art History Director’s Council annual meeting the focus was on graduate education.

Graduate students from all four divisions met with members of the Director’s Council to discuss their experience. These unscripted discussions centered around two priorities—scholarships and support for small-scale projects.

peoplt sitting on couch and chairs in studioBill Arning, Director of CAMH, visits graduate studios before a lecture for the department.

“Our Director’s Council is a small group of the department’s closest friends and supporters," says Jack Risley, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “They are key advocates who know our strengths and ambitions—they get the word out to help us build the endowments for our graduate programs.”

The department competes with leading institutions for the most talented graduate students. The faculty are a powerful means to recruit students, but ample graduate funding will be critical to sustaining our programs and competing with the most elite schools across the country.

“Since I joined the university in 2012, I have wanted to create an endowed fund to support projects that improve the quality of life in the department from a student’s perspective,” remarks Risley. “This fund will enable us to say yes to good ideas that fall outside of our current budgets, such as student travel, organized trips, student publications, research projects, exhibitions, events and the myriad other initiatives that distinguish an average program from an ambitious and boisterous one.”

people standing around big machinery getting lesson on useStudents learn about the CNC Router in the Digital Fabrication Lab.

The department’s ability to be nimble and proactive when it comes to changes in the department’s funding streams will strengthen programs over the long term.

“The materials and processes that artist use is always shifting, changing with new technology or rediscovered processes,” says Zach Meisner, M.F.A. candidate in Studio Art. “We needed the digital fabrication lab because laser cutters and CNC routers are becoming commonly used tools for artists and offer unique creative potential. But to stay competitive, we need to be able to expand and get new equipment like a UV printer. At the same time interests change and processes from the past become relevant again.”

Improvements to facilities and resources affect students at both the undergraduate and graduate level and every program within the department. The scholarships awarded to students support everything from supplies and tuition to study abroad programs and special research projects.

people stand in hallway and talk
Students and faculty during the Eleanor Greenhill Symposium in Art History.

“The opportunity for students to participate in summer programs and exchanges with other institutions such as Ox-Bow and Royal College of Art in London keeps our conversations dynamic,” describes Zach Meisner. “Bringing visiting critics and artists to the school is also crucial to nourishing a high level of dialogue within the program and to prevent it from becoming insular.”

Initiatives to raise funds to support improvement to facilities and resources, alleviate the growing financial burden for students, and provide the best education and research opportunities will shape the goals of the Director’s Council for years to come.

For more information on supporting the Department of Art and Art History, contact Andrea Keene,, 512-471-9270.