Department of Art and Art History News

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.

Inaugural Seminars on Site course completes study abroad trip

Thu. October 29, 2015

people post for a group photo in Rome
Photo by Amy Angell.

This fall, the Department of Art and Art History piloted its first semester of Seminars on Site, a new course supported by the Kimbell Art Foundation. The seminar, entitled Architecture and Decoration in Pre-modern Rome: Patronage, Politics, and the Past, was offered to graduate Art History students and taught by Penelope Davies and Joan Holladay.

After their trip, the students described their experience via email. Don't miss this photo album documenting their trip!

Our trip to Rome provided us students with an opportunity that few students of art history receive in their academic careers: the chance to study architectural monuments in person, particularly with two of the greatest experts in the fields of ancient Roman and medieval art and decoration. We were able to fit so many site visits into these 10 days. I would enroll in the course again in a heartbeat if offered the opportunity!" — Allison Porambo

"For me it was the opportunity of a lifetime. What I found most rewarding about our experience in Rome was the ability to stand before some of the grandest monuments in the history of human endeavor and being able to make a real connection to the past, and its people through the rich visual narrative of architecture. What it has helped me to realize is that there is a vibrancy inherent in every city, an unending cycle of decay and renewal. Through the recycling of art, architectural space, one can not only reclaim the past, but through careful rearrangement also add to a city or building’s narrative, in essence giving it a life.

They say that you never truly know someone until you travel with them. The day-to-day interaction as a class in Rome afforded us the unique opportunity for discovering multi-vocalic perspectives, and an opportunity to forge friendships that will, I hope, span our academic careers. " — Christopher Wood

"Going to Rome was an incredible experience. This was my first visit to the city—and to Italy—and I feel so fortunate to have had such amazingly knowledgeable tour guides. While the long days were pretty exhausting, and my feet haven’t entirely forgiven me, it was worth it to get to see the multi-layered fragments of Ancient and Medieval Rome up close and within the living city, and to see the unforgettable views of the landscape from atop the seven hills and through the windows of historic monuments like the Colosseum and Castel San Angelo." — Shana Thompson

"The trip to Rome was absolutely amazing. Seeing the monuments themselves added an indescribable layer of depth to my overall understanding of Roman life in the ancient and medieval periods. It was an unforgettable experience!" — Katrina Erni

"The trip to Rome was incomparable! We learned so much about so many different places in such a short time span that it was truly a whirlwind! By far my favorite monument was the Pantheon. (I've attached a photo of it at night) We discussed it in such great detail that I never imagined I could learn so much about a place I thought I was familiar with." — Sally Topping

"Walking among Rome’s urban landscape provided an understanding of the physical space of the city that looking at a map cannot deliver. Presenting research on a monument on-site lent weight and permanence to words that a slideshow of photographs in a classroom cannot give. The opportunity to experience the modern city and witness its integration with the ancient and medieval worlds allowed for a more complex perception of Rome and offered inspiration for future projects." — Amy Angell

"The ability to experience and interact with Roman monuments greatly altered my perception of ancient and medieval Rome. I was most impressed with the size of Rome. Although some areas of the city had a high concentration of monuments, other notable structures were much further from the city center than I previously realized. Traversing the streets of Rome provided me with a clear understanding of the city’s space during the ancient and medieval periods." — Alexandra Madsen

Q+A with Meghan Rubenstein (Ph.D in Art History, expected December 2015)

Thu. October 29, 2015

woman in glasses with hair up poses for photo

Meghan Rubenstein is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History, expected graduation in December 2015. She answered questions over email.

Posts you wrote while doing research in Mexico are being published on a new website organized by the Program for the Art of the Ancient Americas at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). How did you get involved in this initiative?

Meghan Rubenstein: Last year a curator at LACMA contacted Julia Guernsey, my dissertation co-advisor, looking for individuals willing to share their research in Latin America with a broader audience. The concept behind the new Ancient Americas blog was to expose readers to the research process rather than just the results. Since I had recently returned from a year of fieldwork in Mexico, Julia suggested I contribute to this project. I contacted LACMA with a summary of my research and potential blog topics, and when the website launched earlier this year I was invited to write a series of posts on my work.

These particular posts document your initial fieldwork in 2012. How did your research evolve to your final thesis topic?

MR: Living in Mexico gave me access to an entirely different set of resources than I had in Texas. Not only was I able to meet with and work alongside a number of scholars in my field, I read archaeological reports and theses housed within the local archives and libraries. The combination of conversations and exposure to new data ultimately helped refine my project and more fully engage with the material. I originally intended to produce in-depth studies on several buildings at Kabah. Yet when I realized how much data was being unearthed at the Codz Pop, I made this structure my primary case study. While focusing on a single building seems narrow, it allowed me to explore the structure and its socio-political function in greater depth. Considering how it related to other examples nearby and afar also forced me to think more broadly about the cultural meaning of architecture throughout the world.

What attracted you to your current position at Colorado College? What does your average workday look like?

MR: When I started looking for jobs, I didn’t have an ideal position in mind. I was hoping to land in a place that would allow me to be creative, productive and continue my own research. When I saw the job description for the position at Colorado College, I felt like it was written for me. Colorado College is a small school with a combined Studio and Art History program, and they were looking for someone who could work closely with students and faculty to support their research and teaching needs. In addition to my background in art history, I have a love for technology, an undergraduate degree in studio art, and several years experience working in the field of Visual Resources. It was a good fit. Also, Colorado is beautiful.

There is no average work day for me. That is one of the reasons I was attracted to this position. Colorado College is on the block plan, so students take—and instructors teach—one class at a time. What that means for me is that every four weeks is like the start of a new semester. In addition to maintaining and growing the department’s image collection, I brainstorm ways students and faculty can effectively incorporate visual resources into their classrooms and scholarship, which involves researching new instructional technologies and providing training to our department.

Do you have upcoming projects or research travel you're particularly excited about?

MR: Like most research projects, I started with a single idea and ended up with a hundred new ones that will keep me busy for a while. I have plans to return to Yucatán next summer to continue my research in the Puuc region, as well as potentially join another project that is in the works. I haven’t been back to Mexico in almost two years—and I can’t wait!