What’s Next…?

Becca:

Another month, another blog. This month we decided we would talk to you about careers. I’m sure everyone has heard the questions: “so what are you going to do when you graduate?” “is that a viable option?” “what job do you want to do?” blah blah blah…so this won’t be like that. Luckily I am still volunteering at York Minster with the collection team. Our pilgrimage exhibition has been open for a few weeks now and I am really proud of it. We’re finishing off the evaluation at the moment, and then technically my ‘internship’ ends, but fret not! I have been offered another volunteer role at the Minster as the ‘digital content volunteer’. I actually don’t know what this entails yet but will know by next Friday! All very exciting and I’m chuffed to have been asked to continue volunteering there. All good steps on the career ladder they say…

A few days ago, I went to a talk by some York alumni who now work as assistant curators at the V&A and it was great! They basically said that they didn’t get the first curatorial role they went for, nor the 5th or the 10th but they persevered. They also said volunteering was the way forward (to paraphrase). It was a really interesting talk, only marred by my having to watch the clock to be able to get to my Latin revision in time (who said students don’t have fun?) Nonetheless, York is an excellent place to be able to tap into these little nuggets – it is reassuring to know that these professionals were once in the same boat I am in now and that the course ‘art history’ in tandem with ‘York’ is respected in the museum world (lecturers always say it, but it feels different coming from someone completely different). The talk was inspiring and I went away feeling happier about my life choices. It will be hard but I relish that challenge. York has taught me so much in my very short time here and I can’t wait to see what the future brings – hopefully cake and tea in abundance.

But anyway, on with work. We have a dissertation portfolio due in in a few days. Unluckily I had to switch dissertation subject a few days ago so it has been manic. Till next time.

 

Kat:

I distinctly remember a specific incident at an event in Washington D.C., where I had been finishing my undergraduate degree. I had just told an older gentleman what I was studying. “Well, what do you expect to do with that?” he asked skeptically,  all the while stuffing cheesy shrimp rolls into his mouth.  I was not a stranger to this patronizing question; in fact, most students of the humanities will receive this question sooner or later. At the time, I was interning with the curatorial team at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture garden, and despite how much I was learning, I still felt as if I could never possibly secure an actual job. I’ve completed a lot of internships and volunteer positions over the past six years of my higher education, and I have enjoyed every single one of them. But each time I was always anxious about whether or not I was doing my best, or if my best was the right “best” for the position.

Museums are generally wonderful places to work— my current placement with Yorkshire Sculpture Park is exemplary of that. You’re surrounded by people who are as dedicated and passionate as you are about culture and history, and together you strive to serve communities, inspire research, and steward collections. But with each new museum you work for, there is certainly a learning curve. There’s a lot of short-hand you need to catch up on, and operations usually move at a pretty clipping pace.

As dissertations loom and I begin to apply for jobs, fellowships, and PhD programs, I still feel unsure about whether I’ll be able to achieve what I want. But after gaining the skills I have through the MA program, I certainly don’t feel as anxious anymore. I know I have what I need in my tool kit to effectively problem-solve the unknowns.

At the time, I didn’t have a witty answer for the gentleman at the event with an affinity for dairy and seafood. And I still don’t, really. It’s difficult to sum up the absolute importance of the arts, culture, and robust scholarship in a twitter-worthy comeback (if you have any good ones, let me know). But I think the best response is to prove what I hope to do with my actions. Here’s looking forward to a lot of failures, and maybe equally as many successes—neither of which will be wasted.

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Spring has Sprung!

Fields and walking paths near the university.

Becca:

So, it is Easter! There are two more essays left to complete then summer and dissertation. I love my essay topics this term and I seem to have the balance better this time. I am currently at home having puppy cuddles, many walks and much sleep.

For lent I gave up cake…as you can imagine it has not gone well, but in my defence, it has been Mother’s Day. I aim to be back in York later today and I am excited to experience York at Easter. With the weather getting better it is beautiful. Before heading back home last week, I had an impromptu picnic in the Minster gardens. Well worth it.

The exhibition I am working on at the Minster is open to the public on 1st April and it has been a real push. Unfortunately, due to the limited time I have had I have not been able to give as much time as I would have liked but it has been brilliant. I am excited for the public to see the exhibition! I am expecting the Minster to be even more glorious in its spring light.

One of the things I am looking forward to most (which might seem trivial) is going for walk and not needing a coat. Oh, simple pleasures! There is an exquisite walk along the river into York from campus and it is my regular haunt. If you’re into running, it is also great for running. There are also many dog walkers so it is perfect to stare at dogs and wish you had your own with you. I won’t lie one of the hardest things to get used to moving to York was not having my dogs around me. The worst thing is I come home excited and one of the dogs takes 3-4 days getting used to me again before she gives me love. She might be as high maintenance as I!

Anyway, as I have said I am excited to get back to York and experience her Spring time beauty. It doesn’t hurt that there is also a chocolate festival happening over Easter…

 

Kat:

Another term finished! It’s exciting to be so close to starting the dissertation phase of the program. After these two last term papers, it’ll be wonderful to set my own schedule and drive my own research. While the modules I took this past term were fascinating and engaging, there is something exciting about finding your own topic to pursue with focus and diligence on your own terms (though, of course, with the invaluable guidance of your supervisor).

I’ve been mulling over my dissertation topic since September. I was caught between researching Kentucky Route Zero, a successful indie PC game whose David Lynchian narrative plays out over five discrete acts in beautifully ethereal vectors, or The Jejune Institute, a participatory experience that engaged San Franciscans in purposeful play from 2008 until 2010. While I would love to eventually embark on an in-depth study of KRZ, I eventually chose The Jejune Institute for its art historical precedent in mid-century groups like the Situationist International and Fluxus. In preparation for the dissertation period, I’ve been collating articles (both scholarly and popular) I come across that might be helpful in guiding my research— I have a working folder on my computer of these resources. I also have a document called “Preliminary Notes and Ideas” where I write down any questions, thoughts, or phrases concerning the research project that might come in handy later. That way, when I begin my dissertation in earnest, I will already have a bit of a map to direct my research. I’ve realized that when I work through research projects, I do my best work when I can go for a walk ever couple hours. Like many of my classmates, I almost always carry my research questions around with me in the back of my mind, so I’m usually processing ideas or synthesizing information on the back-burner. Walks, especially along University of York’s spring-time campus, help speed up this process. I usually come back from a walk with a new set of ideas, or a particularly difficult patch of wording worked through to coherence.

On a recent walk I took, some friends showed me a beautiful wooded trail that led to an oil seed field. Since late March, the oil seed in the area has blossomed into its characteristic bright yellow, and it’s absolutely striking. Apparently, there are some picnic tables near the field, so we’re planning to get a group together for a study-break picnic once it gets warmer. Happy spring, and happy writing!

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Experiencing York via interning

Becca

So as my last post said, this term I am focusing on medieval stained glass traditions. Within this module, we get to wander around York looking at churches, (St Martin on Coney Street, All Saints on North Street) and of course the Minster. Yesterday we went to Howsham Church – it was beautiful. It was designed by G.E. Street following the principles of the Gothic revival during the Victorian period. This is a period I had never studied but it was fascinating. Unluckily the church was freezing! We went outside to warm up! Luckily there were 2 dogs I got to play with for a while which made up for the cold. York is probably the best city for this sort of thing (the churches and also the dogs); all you need to is head from the campus into the city and you will meet with an abundance of churches. All slightly different but all a treasure trove of medieval delights. I would suggest when going on trips to look at churches, wear many layers.

I also have intern/volunteering news – how exciting! I am now volunteering at the Minster as an exhibition intern/volunteer. I am working with the collection and engagement assistant helping with their upcoming exhibition on Pilgrimage. This is something I have only ever half helped with – I tend to volunteer at the end of the exhibition process and thus only see the end result. Luckily for me I was able to do this all because of a sign. Bear with me here…upon visiting the Minster a few weeks ago I saw a sign (a literal sign – this isn’t the medieval period where everything points to a religious sign or allegory…or is it?) saying that a new exhibition will be set up but until then a section of the under croft was closed. At the bottom of this God given sign was an email. I sent off an awkwardly worded email asking to volunteer and the next thing I knew I was sitting in the staff room at the Minster having an interview. This experience taught me that you need to grab experiences as and when you can. It felt like a weird thing to do but a real positive has arisen from that email. Take any chance you can. It’s competitive out there and you need something to stand out from the crowd – in this case it was an email.

This month was also the month of essay marks. Why is it that the waiting for marks back is worse than the writing of the essay? Nonetheless, they were returned. I didn’t get the marks I was hoping for but I still did okay. I haven’t written essays for a few years and I found it really daunting. I had to remember how to write an essay, and that is something I had not counted on when starting this process. Nonetheless, it was a good experience and the feedback I received back from both essays was really useful going into the Spring term essays and dissertation. All in all, receiving the marks back for the essays might be the worst part of the essay process. Luckily I was able to talk to my lecturer and work through where I lost marks (structure is important guys!) and I went away feeling slightly happier and with an action plan. The best advice I could give prospective students is to capitalise on the lecturers – they are here to help us; they have been through it all as well. The lecturer I spoke to was great – he told me that he remembered having the exact same conversation with one of his lecturers when he was studying. It made me remember that I am not in a single boat being thrown about on the waves of better academics, but rather, I am on the waves of those who have been before me and it is my time to make my own waves (please excuse the awful metaphor).

But on to better things. It is coming to the end of the Spring term and I have more essays to start planning for. It feels like this term has flown by – I got back to York ill and it still feels like the start of term…now, I am still slightly ill (thanks friends) and have around 3 weeks left. I wish I had more time but I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. Until next time.

Kat

Things are ramping up! By the time we received our marks from last term’s papers, we were just about ready to meet with our current professors about this term’s papers (to brainstorm, to work through budding ideas, to build a bibliography, etc). Additionally, we’ll have to turn in a preliminary proposal for our dissertations soon. This piece of writing is only 250 words or so, but it lets the department know approximately in what direction your thoughts are headed so far as subject, methodology, and thesis. On top of all this, there’s been a flurry of work from Yorkshire Sculpture Park for some exciting on-going projects. So much to do, so little time!

My time at Yorkshire Sculpture Park has been incredibly eye-opening and stimulating, to say the least. I spend one day a week in their offices working with the curatorial staff and program assistants. Coming from the US where internships usually constitute 15-20 hours of your weekly schedule, this shorter time commitment threw me for a loop at first. I often feel as if I am not contributing enough to the office simply by virtue of not being there more than a day a week, so I will sometimes take work home with me to do over the weekend. My supervisor has been extremely flexible with my changing schedule as an M.A. student; I’ve had to work remotely or swap days on a few occasions, and she has been accommodating on all accounts. As of late, YSP is in the thick of installing an exhibition of works by sculptor Tony Cragg. The abstract, undulating works look incredible against the Breton Estate landscape, especially with sunny weather we’ve been having as of late. I was asked to edit the gallery guide, didactics, and other exhibition materials, which was a wonderfully beneficial insight into YSP’s design and publishing process. I had worked at other museums before that did their exhibition guide design in-house through the marketing or publishing departments, but the curatorial staff at YSP does it all themselves! It’s also been interesting to get a hang of what language and style YSP likes to maintain in its materials to achieve a seamless brand identity. Plus, now my name appears in the back of the text under “researcher” and “proof-reader.” Pretty cool, huh?

So… how did my last term papers go? Well, I was surprised. I received a mark I was happy with on one of my papers, and a mark I was dissatisfied with on the other. I was keen to figure out how I could improve to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again this term, so I scheduled a meeting with my professor. We walked through the feedback I got on my feedback sheet, discussing possible solutions and general ideas to keep in mind for the upcoming papers. She was patient, encouraging, and understanding. All together, I walked out of her office feeling like I had some nice and succinct guidelines for improvement. It was a helpful reminder that, even though I am no longer enrolled in courses taught by last term’s professors, they are still here as a supportive and clarifying resource. The department at York has so much to offer its students in the way of advice and transparency—make sure to take advantage of that!

 

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A new year

Becca:

So we have been in the Spring term for a few weeks and it feels very bizarre. Primarily because I spent most of Christmas binge watching friends and being ill but also because Spring terms means we’re on the downward slope to the end of the Masters! Where has the time gone? I arrived last September thinking Autumn term was going to take forever and instead it flew by. It was good but also scary! I have found the readjusting slightly harder this term; getting used to a new (but very similar) timetable whilst getting back into the swing of spending spare time reading articles and juggling work.

Luckily both modules this term are really interesting. I am studying stained glass in the ‘painting on light’ module and spaces in the medieval period in ‘paradises lost and found’. Both complement each other weirdly enough. I never got to study the medieval ideas of ‘space’ at undergrad so it is brand new and wonderful. We had our first seminars last week and for ‘painting on light’ I volunteered for the first presentation of the term. You can decide if this was a bad or good choice. I got to examine Abbot Suger’s text on the rebuilding and decoration of the Abbey of St Denis, in relation to light. I was asked to lead a discussion which is what I did…unfortunately, I led it so well (if I do say so myself) that we spent an hour and a quarter discussing the text. The other guys in the class who were presenting only had about 10 minutes to present after! In future I will aim to look at the clock more than usual to make sure I do not go on for ages!!

In place of presentations, for ‘paradises lost and found’ we have a class blog where each week we upload 2 questions we got from the readings and a short commentary on/summary of one reading. I really love this approach. It has forced me to engage more with the texts I am reading instead of trying to read them quickly then moving on to the next.

So all in all both modules, so far, are really thought-provoking and engaging so I’m looking forward to the rest of the term…if I can get back into the swing of things.

Kat:

Hello from the other side! Ignoring the accidental Adele reference, our break is over and we are officially in the thick of the spring term.

The winter holiday passed quite quickly. Between travel, celebrations, term papers, and various conference/fellowship applications, I feel as if I just rolled into the new term instead of starting fresh. In some ways, this is good; I am still actively applying the concepts I learned last term to my work this term, which has reaped some wonderfully surprising connections. At the same time, I consistently feel like I am playing catch-up. There’s never enough time, but if you put the kettle on and play your favourite power-through playlist, it starts to seem as if you can stretch the hours.

Keeping immersed in the work does ease the transition from break-time into term-time. Before the break, I was given a coordinating role on a short-term curatorial project that will be coming to Yorkshire Sculpture Park in March. It’s been exciting to help develop a project from start to finish– here’s hoping I’ll be able to do a few more like this before the studentship concludes! I’m also in the midst of crafting an application for a fellowship that would commence at the end of this year. While I am unsure as to the competitiveness of my application, it is somewhat jarring to turn my energies towards post-grad plans when I haven’t even conferred with my dissertation adviser yet. Being a bit of a neurotic planner, I have a full spreadsheet of career openings and institutions I plan on contacting during summer term.

I suppose this is all what makes “transitioning” from break to term at this point in the year so strange. At this juncture in our acquisition of an MA, everything becomes an adjustment. Whether that’s from the holidays back to serious study, from student to professional, or student to academic, this year-long program is short and demanding, but characterized by hard work and genuine scholarly growth.

Which reminds me—time to get back at it! Those Bauhaus manifestos and treatises on spectatorship won’t read themselves! Until next time.

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Break time!

Becca:

So I’m writing this from home, which is the lush, old county Norfolk. We finished the Autumn term at the beginning of December and the last few weeks have been full on stress, so it is nice to be home having dog cuddles and drinking more tea than recommended. I have 2 essays due at the beginning of the Spring term in January but luckily I have already written both essays due to a slight misunderstanding and getting the due date wrong…by a month.

Stress is hell; I never deal with it well hence I now have the worst cold ever (over-exaggeration) and never want to read another book about medieval whores (over-exaggeration). Yes, one of my essays was on medieval whores; well the church as a whore to be specific. I was able to examine the ideas of openness and liminality in reference to the church building and the whore’s body; the world really is your oyster sometimes! I loved writing it – it was a real challenge especially as no-one has written on it before but I guess I can’t be wrong…right? My other essay is focussed on the secular iconography and sacred function of the St William tomb-shrine and principal shrine in the York Minster. It was really hard to write but the intense stress I put myself under really did help me finish it. Nonetheless, I managed to stress write both my essays before heading home. Now I can edit and relax with copious amounts of tea, mulled wine, cake and chocolate. I can deal with that.

I would not recommend thinking the due date is a month earlier than it is but it has allowed me to have time to myself this Christmas. I can read a novel without feeling guilty (I still feel guilty but not nearly as much) and I can catch up with friends without needing to run home to continue writing my essays. It is all about balance in the essay writing world; I got this balance slightly wrong but luckily for me it has worked (fingers crossed) in my favour.

So Merry Christmas and have a beautiful New Year – to celebrate this festive season I hope you all like the picture of my dog, Lady, have a wonderful time playing dress up!

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Kat:

Happy Holidays! The autumn term is over and break has commenced! The holidays feel a bit abrupt this time around, and I am currently preoccupied with term papers. I chose to take a short break after modules closed and went on a weekend trip to Loch Leven with my partner. It was wonderful to get some fresh air, eat some delicious food, go on a few hikes, and revel in the incredibly mammoth scenery of the Scottish Highlands. We lucked out with some wonderful weather, which meant I was able to take the time and sketch some of the landscape. When I lived in Washington D.C., I used to visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and sketch animal specimens as a (admittedly weird) way to relieve stress. With all of the changes over the past six months or so, I hadn’t been able to sketch like that for awhile; it was quite a treat to take it up again among mountain streams and crisp air.

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But a three-hour bus ride and two-hour train trip later, and I was back to my flat (and my responsibilities). It has been admittedly difficult to convince myself to work on my term papers this season, though I am resolved to finish them before the holidays. I unintentionally ended up focusing on the intersection of the body and the landscape this term: one paper on queering colonial landscapes as a framework for understanding the British-Indian power dynamic in the seventeenth century and another on Kara Walker’s silhouettes as a kind of mythologizing of the black-American body in the Anthropocentric landscape and the cyborgian responses such conditions have necessitated. I tend to approach essays and other writing projects as problems with many different possible combinations as solutions. Unfortunately, the combination I’m looking for isn’t coming to me as easily as I had hoped.

So, what to do when you’re blank for ideas and stressed about the time you’re wasting while blank for ideas? Firstly, take breaks. Unlike sculpture, the form and shape of your paper isn’t going to come if you keep chipping away at yourself. In fact, breaks allow your brain to freely consider new possibilities or other avenues of thought. Secondly, try tackling another problem. Does your CV need fine-tuning? Have you figured out a holiday present for that one friend who says, year after year, “Just get me whatever?” Look at these smaller problems as a warm-up for the bigger puzzle that is your term paper/dissertation/article/etc. Finally, fix a cup of tea (or a glass of wine), take a deep breath, close out your facebook and twitter tabs, and take another crack at it. Rinse and repeat as necessary. If you run through this cycle several times and nothing seems to be working, start over. Yes, it sucks to say goodbye to the sections you’ve managed to write, but it’s clear they’re not getting you anywhere. Why not start a-fresh?

Happy holidays and happy writing!

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Welcome to The Bee and the Kat!

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Hi there! We’re a blog for the History of Art MA at University of York, and for our first post, we decided to focus on our entry into the MA program as well as our experiences during term time. Happy reading!

Becca:

So I’ve been in York for around 9 weeks now… Time really does fly when you’re having fun. Looking back at my first week I am so proud of how far I have come. From the major wobble during the first week, wondering if I had made the right choice, to now, trying to transcribe Latin palaeography. Luckily I met some superbly wonderful people on my first day here and we all trundled off to the ceilidh which was part of the graduate welcome week. If they run next year, don’t dress for cold weather! Nonetheless is was brilliant.

Fast forward a few days and I was gallivanting around York, looking at the Minster, drinking cider at the food and drink festival and just genuinely enjoying myself. The city itself is small but it is very, very easy to get lost in. For quite a few weeks I was taking the longest possible way to and from Kings Manor, until someone showed me the really quick short cut!

As a medievalist I am based at Kings Manor – a spectacular medieval building, once used by the abbot of St Mary’s Priory and subsequently used by Tudors and Stuarts; now I am part of this rather impressive list…watch out Henry VIII! Having lectures here is one of the best experiences – it is freezing but worth it. One of my modules ‘Art and Imagery of the York Minster’ is half based in the Minster itself and half based at King’s Manor. Being able to learn about a building whilst being in the building itself is incredible. As part of these I presented 2 2hour seminar leads, in a group, which was a petrifying experience. Even so, to be able to stand next to the sculpture, architecture, artefact etc that you are describing and analysing is exquisite. Conveniently, the Minster is really near to one of my favourite cupcake shops, which gets a lot of my patronage after the seminar. After all what is life without a little (a lot) of cake?

Kat:

The autumn term of the program is almost over, and just in time for the first round of blog posts! It feels a bit odd to start at the end, especially with term papers looming…

This whole experience has passed by so quickly. It didn’t really hit me until week five or six when my peers and I started signing up for personal tutorials with our tutors to discuss paper topics. Up until that point, keeping up on the reading and getting comfortable in a new place took precedence. Even with the stress, the new environment is exciting, to say the least.

I first arrived in York two weeks before the course started. Day one was a bit of a blur: I got off a transatlantic flight from the US with two suitcases that each weighed the equivalent of a medium-sized human, then navigated through a city I had never visited before towards my flat on two hours of sleep, desperately wanting a shower and a nap, only to realize I hadn’t packed towels or sheets. While day two was definitely an improvement (a shower! A full night’s sleep!), I like to think that this comically rough entry to the country has, in a way, defined my experience. The truth is, even though I had studied in the UK previously, the process of cultural adjustment has corralled me into many an awkward situation. Conversational cues are a bit labored, payment etiquette at restaurants still mystifies me, and what the heck are off-peak electricity hours, anyway?! But sincerely, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s something wonderful about giving yourself a pass to make mistakes, about enjoying the steep learning curve, and gleaning from every awkward encounter. The students at the university and the people in town are welcoming and gracious; one of the reasons I chose this History of Art program was because it had a reputation of being a very friendly department. I’m beginning to suspect that international students like myself never really get over the adjustment period. Admittedly, this can get tiresome, but it forces you to be open to new experiences and perspectives. And coincidentally, that lesson is really advantageous for producing new scholarly work.

One of my two modules this fall is called Adventures in the Anthropocene, and before the term, I had never been introduced to the methodologies and content of the course. But with each week, I realized how much this type of content fed into and broadened my established interests. I’ve said this so many times to my professor that she’s probably sick of hearing it, but discovering this whole other possible paradigm for approaching art is equally exciting as it is overwhelming. Because of this new exposure, my questions are becoming more robust and critical, and my breadth of content knowledge continues to grow. Of course, I still make mistakes and find myself in the deep end sometimes (okay, often). I usually have to look up half of the authors referenced in our readings because I’ve never heard of them before, and some of the argumentative complexities still fly straight over my head. But it’s all new, and it’s all challenging the way I think. And isn’t that exciting?

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