Interview with Beatrice Levine
Senior undergraduate student and Art History major Beatrice Levine (BL) speaks with a Fine Arts Marketing Associate (FA) about her senior thesis on the representation of classic art in modern hip hop and pop.
FA: If you had to explain your topic to someone who knows NOTHING about Art History, what would you say?
BL: My topic brings pop culture and art history together, so even if someone has no previous art historical knowledge it's fairly accessible. I would say it is an exploration into the music videos, album art, lyrics, and social media posts of pop cultural icons like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and even Korean Pop acts like BTS, where some references to art appears.
FA: Now what's the more in-depth explanation of your thesis?
BL: I look at three sections of mainstream music including pop, hip-hop, and K-pop and explain how and why the acts within these genres are referencing art history so prolifically, specifically looking to their work in the twenty-first century. When Taylor Swift strikes a pose that references a Bernini sculpture in a music video, what could easily be dismissed as a coincidence or the work of a particularly art historically inclined choreographer, is actually a conscious choice that participates in a larger trend across the visual culture of mainstream music. How each artist goes about this and their reasons for doing this varies across these genres.
FA: Why do you think classic works show up in contemporary places?
BL: This is where things get complicated. My research has found that most artists do this for very personal and individual reasons that are typically dictated both by their own careers and the genre in which they participate. Specifically with images from Ancient Greece and Rome I think there are a few reasons we see this so much in music videos. For one it is very familiar to a western audience, we see a classical sculpture and we know how we're supposed to read that image, whether we know the mythological story associated with the figures or not. A lot of times these images evoke a sense of authority or power as they come from some of the greatest civilizations in the west, thus they're very handy if you're trying to visually assert yourself as, say, the best in the rap-game right now.
FA: What got you interested in this topic?
BL: I'm a pop culture junkie. I think in my childhood and teenage years I was consuming somewhere from 5-10 magazines a month (some of which aren't even in print anymore, RIP Teen People magazine). I also do acknowledge growing up overseas had a big impact in a strange way. Music videos are everywhere there [in Germany], even our McDonald's had TVs that only played MTV Germany on a loop. With the introduction of the internet and YouTube, I would be up until 3 am in middle school watching music videos, reading pop culture sites (I was trash and read Perez Hilton, I'll admit it), I just could NOT get enough of all things celebrity. At the same time I was living in a medieval German city and surrounded by art and architecture which eventually lead me to Art History. When I started noticing the two worlds colliding during my undergraduate years I knew immediately that was something I was interested in investigating.
FA: What did you learn from this process?
BL: I thought I knew how to write a solid research paper, but writing a thesis is an entirely different animal. It was a great way to prep for graduate school and eventually writing a master's thesis. I learned how important it is to pick a topic you have a sort of superhuman level of passion for when writing a thesis of any kind, undergraduate or otherwise. You're with this research for a long time. Oftentimes when you have other assignments, obligations, and it is stressful. It can be easy to ignore researching a topic you're lukewarm toward. For me, research and writing felt like a refuge because I was working with a topic I loved. My biggest complaint was I didn't have more time during the week to spend with my work!
FA: Why is this topic important?
BL: My topic looks at media you're bombarded by literally every single day. We're (almost) all on social media, and even if you're not into someone like Kanye West you're likely to see his music videos and hear his music when he releases new content, whether you want to or not. For example, I have never once been to Coachella and I've probably seen the entirety of Beyonce's 2-hour latest set from the festival on the Instagram explore page alone. Seeing the visual output from pop culture giants is unavoidable at this point and it is important to be media literate and know what you're actually viewing.
FA: How did you go about researching for this presentation?
BL: I was fortunate in that a lot of my research was already in my arsenal when I started because it was literally screen shots from music videos! But for the more traditional research I spent hours scouring databases for any writing concerning these musicians, especially outside of the art historical discipline. When you do this kind of research, you find there's already one or two nerds out there like you who have written on the same topic or at least something similar. After I read everything those scholars had written I would then go to their sources and so on and so forth. I also kept on top of what was happening with the musicians from my thesis in real time, a lot of my research actually comes from the past 18 months alone.
FA: If someone walked away with ONE thing from your presentation, what would you want them to learn?
BL: I would want them to sort of be surprised at simply how many layers there are to media they are seeing on a daily basis, and hopefully that would inspire them to view things with more care and thought. A lot of work and thought is put into these images from some fantastically creative directors, photographers, stylists, costumers, choreographers, and of course the pop culture icons themselves - it deserves to be recognized academically.
FA: Anything to add?
BL: I would say it is important to look more deeply into the images from pop culture we take for granted. Pop culture is often dismissed as lesser because it is so accessible to its audience. You don't have to understand these references to enjoy its content. However, that doesn't mean intellectual thought is absent. In fact, it's just waiting for us to take notice.
In Conversation with a MCA Intern
Senior Psychology student and Drawing and Painting minor Jessica Malatia (JM) speaks with a Fine Arts Marketing Associate (FA) about her experiences as an intern for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and gives advice to other students about internships.
FA: How did you first hear about the MCA internship?
JM: I heard about it on the MCA's website.
FA: Why did you choose this internship over others?
JM: I have always wanted to work in a museum setting, but was unsure of how I could gain the necessary education or experience, since I am not studying Art History or Museum Studies. I decided to intern at the MCA to gain hands-on experience in museum setting, which I would not have gotten otherwise as a Psychology and Fine Arts student. I was elated to hear about the Interpretive Practices internship, since I had the necessary research experience from my Psychology courses and a research project in my capstone class. I did not think that as a Psychology major I could find myself in a museum, but this goes to show the wide variety of positions that are available for people of all backgrounds.
FA: What was your interview like?
JM: I interviewed with my now supervisor. She talked to me about the details of the department first, and described what my position would look like as an intern. This was helpful, because I was unfamiliar with the field of museum interpretation, and could then base my answers on her description, instead of merely based on the info from their website. Then, she asked me a few questions about why I was interested in the internship and what skills I wanted to gain from my time at the MCA. Lastly, she asked me questions about specific exhibitions I could remember that were impactful to me from past visits to museums. I talked about the exhibition design in the Magritte show from the Art Institute, as well as the interesting tools used to get visitors to interact in the Van Gogh's Bedrooms show (also at the Art Institute). I definitely was not expecting these questions, but after the fact, I realized she was asking about my experiences with interpretive tools in museums!
FA: What do you do at this internship?
JM: I intern in the Interpretation department, which deals with both interpretation and evaluation. In regard to the interpretation part, I research content for interpretive spaces and interpretive tools. Some of my tasks have been to research new and interesting ways to display labels for works of art, and even selecting advertisements from vintage magazines that are on display in the current Howardena Pindell exhibition. In regard to evaluation, I get to conduct exit interviews with visitors to hear about their opinions on the exhibitions. I also do timing and tracking studies. This involves discreetly following visitors through the galleries to track which works they stop at, as well as timing how long they spend in the galleries. Lastly, I help with the docent program, which includes editing docent training materials and attending docent tours of the exhibitions.
FA: What is your favorite part of your internship?
JM: I have really enjoyed meeting some of the exhibiting artists and hearing them speak about their work. Aside from that, I love learning about the behind-the-scenes functioning of the museum. Whether that means chatting with museum guards, attending curator tours of the exhibitions, or learning about the ways exhibitions are evaluated, I enjoy it all. I truly feel like my interests and my learning goals are in mind, and that my input is valued.
FA: What is the most surprising or unexpected thing that you have learned so far?
JM: I have been most surprised to learn that the staff at the MCA come from a multitude of different backgrounds. Like I mentioned before, I worried that without an Art History or Museum Studies background, I'd never find myself working in a museum. Through my time here, I have learned that people with many different backgrounds and skill sets can fit into a museum's workplace. This makes me hopeful about my future career opportunities.
FA: What classes helped prepare you for this internship? And how?
JM: I am a Psychology major and a Drawing and Painting minor, so many of my Psych classes prepared me for my internship. Since my internship at the MCA deals with evaluation, my research experiences in a Psych lab and my capstone course prepared me well. FNAR 311 and my Modern Art classes helped as well, because they helped me become well-versed in modern and contemporary art. This was not necessary for the internship, but it definitely helps to understand all the art references made by everyone working around me! Lastly, my time as a Main Office Student Assistant for the DFPA prepared me to feel comfortable working in an office setting. I have gained a great array of administrative skills as well as the confidence to work independently, which helped decrease my nerves about starting the internship in a new place, surrounded by full-time staff.
FA: Did any faculty help you? And if so, in what ways?
JM: Last semester, I took my Psychology capstone course, which was a human services internship. The capstone also had a once a week class associated with it, so I asked my professor for a letter of recommendation. She could vouch for my experiences as both an intern and a student, which was very helpful.
FA: What advice do you have to other students looking for internships?
JM: Reach out both to organizations that do advertise internships and those that do not. For the MCA, their internship program is clearly advertised on their website and the program is well established. In these cases, finding and applying for an internship is pretty easy. However, there are many more organizations that could accept interns, but might not have it listed online. If you find an organization you want to learn more about or potentially work at, but their website says nothing about internship positions, don't give up there. Feel free to reach out and introduce yourself, ask if they accept interns, and attach a resume.
My second point of advice is to ask for help. If you are applying to an internship with an application, letters of recommendation, and a cover letter, don't feel like you have to do it alone. I spoke with someone at the Career Center for help clarifying my resume, and they helped me put my experiences into words in a concise and clear way. If you are searching for internships and the organizations you are interested in don't list positions on their website, ask for help, too! Speak to your advisor about places that students have interned before, so you can reach out to places that might be more likely to accept interns.
2018 Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Research Grant
The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts has announced their 2018 grant award recipients. These grants are awarded to individuals around the world to support projects advance our understanding of the designed environment. The funded projects include exhibitions, publications, films, new media works, and site-specific installations that promote rigorous scholarship, stimulate experimentation, and foster critical discourse in architecture.
Out of 600 proposals, Loyola faculty member Noritaka Minami was chosen as one of the 74 grant recipients. His work is currently featured on the Graham Foundation website, and you can read more about the foundation and grant projects through Architect's Newspaper's exclusive article.
Loyola Student Works Purchased by SEC
This past spring, the SEC asked students in the Photography Program to submit works based on the theme of “Landscape in the Midwest” that could be exhibited in their new Chicago office. The three prints made by Alexis and Jordan were selected out of 26 submissions from Loyola University students. Please join us in congratulating Alexis and Jordan.
Confronting Mental Illness: a series of humanizing performances
In the not-so-often-told story of Herakles the demigod, the regale of a hero born to slay the three-headed hydra is traded for a man who, stricken with madness, kills his family and is condemned to a life of sorrow and regret. The acts of glory we see in cartoons and read in books are actually Herakles’ 12 public acts penitence. Matthew Bodett, Professor of Fine Arts at Loyola University Chicago and new to the campus as of Fall 2017, confronts this paradox of mental illness and penitence in his own set of acts through“Twelve: a series of performative koans,” premiering September 16 through November 4 at various locations throughout the city of Chicago.
A series of 12 different artistic acts and performances,“Twelve” abstracts the story of Herakles to explore Bodett’s relationship with schizophrenia and confront society’s relationship with mental illness. Much like a Buddhist koan—or paradoxical riddle leading to enlightenment—“Twelve” calls for an internal investigation from the audience that ultimately illuminates greater understanding of the many facets of mental illness.
“Now I have a performance. It’s a labor for me, so I feel like it fits within the very difficult world of Herakles. But I need to be careful in utilizing it as a koan to not provide direct answers,” Bodett said.“To not say that I am going to spell out what mental illness is in a way that then you can walk away and be like,‘Oh, now I know,’ and move on with your life. I want it to be a little difficult, and I want the people involved to have more questions when they leave than when they come in.”
Bodett first got the idea for “Twelve” five years ago in graduate school at Boise State University. Following his diagnosis for schizo-affective disorder in 2005, much of Bodett’s artistic work has been investigating that disorder, along with mental illness in general. In graduate school, Bodett was researching the origins and viewpoints of madness when he found the story of Herakles.
“I had come across the Herakles story, and I was very drawn to it because we always talk about Herakles as a hero and not about this fallible nature of madness that he struggled with. So we miss a huge part of his story,” said Bodett.“That so rings true to everything about madness and mental illness, which is that we don’t want to talk about the dirty stuff.”
Bodett received funding for the project through 3Arts' University of Chicago at Illinois Fellowship. 3Arts, an arts funding organization based in the Chicago Metropolitan area, approached Bodett in 2016 to be an Artist-in-Residence. The fellowship, now entering its third year, supports the creation of new works that engage with disability culture.
The different performance events span a range of genres, themes and locations, including an abstract theatrical performance at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre and a poetry and accompanying film series at the Poetry Foundation. Features of“Twelve” include the performance at Steppenwolf and an audio-visual abstraction of poetry and music as a part of Victory Gardens Access Project.
More information about the events and ticketing can be found on Bodett’s website.
Bodett describes his interest in a wide variety of art genres as something that has always been a part of him. He began drawing at a young age and shortly after developed an interest in poetry. He continued to explore artistic forms as he pursued art in adulthood, and now he pulls these different mediums into his exhibitions.
“It generally has come down to what’s my project, what will best utilize and express that symptom, that impairment,” said Bodett.“I think that this project in particular is opening me up to doing a lot more new things.”
One of these new things is collaborating with Chicago-based experimental musicians for the performance at Victory Gardens. Bodett wrote an abstracted musical score that composer and improviser, Christopher Preissing, turned into a musical composition. That composition, along with a few of Bodett’s poems, will be converted into a LED light performance by composer and sound sculptor, Ricardo Mondragon. The final performance consists of only the light composition—no sound—where the audience will be challenged to“hear” their own composition without the use of all five senses.
At the Victory Gardens performance, another first for Bodett is the use of audio captioning for the light performance. Along with the typical accommodations for audience members with physical disabilities, such as wheelchair accessibility and captioning, the Victory Gardens performances use three audio interpreters to describe the three layers of lighting that make up the performance for those who may not be able to see the visual composition.
For Bodett, creating an exhibit that invites the audience to attach personal experience to the work is crucial to the process behind its creation. Bodett’s art is fueled by a passion for investigating the seemingly uncomfortable, and in his mind there is no better way to humanize mental illness than through such an expressive medium.
A smile creeps onto his face as he shares what he often tells his students on the first day of class:
“For me, real art, the art that I’m interested in and that I look for and I push for, makes us confront ourselves, makes us question ourselves and makes us not comfortable in an effort to make us better. Not just to scare us, not just to throw out something that is going to cause a ruckus then is gone, but to really, genuinely allow us to understand ourselves more deeply.”