Studying Art History, Discovering Her Future

November 18 2016
Category: Academics

This week's #‎SoaringToSuccess student is McKayla Sluga ’17. The history and American studies double major collaborated with Dr. Charles Mitchell, Professor of American Studies and Dean of Academic Affairs, to complete her summer research and prepare a graduate-level paper focused on art history. After this experience, McKayla feels even more ready for a future in academia or museum curatorial work.

M Sluga

Let’s hit the books and learn more from McKayla…

This summer I took advantage of Elmira College’s pre-graduate school internship in order to prepare myself for cultural and art history graduate studies next fall. Dr. Charles Mitchell advised me throughout the summer as I conducted my own research project from Salamanca, N.Y.

I utilized the libraries in my area, online databases, and visited the University of Rochester to view rare primary and secondary texts. This internship also allowed me to examine various graduate programs to determine which universities and faculty best match my personal research interests.

The largest component of this internship involved developing a graduate-level thesis paper on an original historical subject, which I titled “American Leftist Art of the 1930s: The Revolutionary Potential of Social Surrealism in an Age of Social Realism.” I chose to focus on 1930s American leftist painting, predominately its affiliation with Marxist philosophical theory as well as its role in social-political life.

I also looked at transatlantic connections between nineteenth and twentieth century European and American modernism in addition to modern art’s tumultuous relationship with American intellectuals. Moreover, I investigated how American artists on the left were at the forefront of the fight against fascism in the late thirties.

My thesis concentrated on social surrealism’s revolutionary potential during the 1930s, which I determined exceeded that of social realism even though social realism dominated the American leftist art scene during this decade. Most artists during the Great Depression era believed that art should perform a political role, that is, depict social-political scenes that could influence the masses to reform the nation. The perceived capability of a work of art to do so determined its revolutionary potential.

Walter Quirt
Walter Quirt, Mural Study for John Reed Club, 1934, United States District Court: Southern District of West Virginia

I worked with several 1930s leftist art journal articles from critics such as Margaret Duroc, Lewis Mumford, and Isidor Schneider who debated over social surrealism’s revolutionary potential. Texts, paintings, and interviews from American social surrealists and social realists themselves added depth and direct support to my argument. French writer and poet, André Breton’s original surrealist manifestos and The Museum of Modern Art’s surrealist exhibitions proved useful as well.

Elmira College’s pre-graduate school internship is an opportunity that very few colleges and universities offer unless they are massive research institutions. Such an internship has prepared me for graduate-level historical research and writing in addition to providing me with a chance to explore academic topics outside of my usual courses. I was able to pin down my research interests and determine what specific fields and themes I intend to study in graduate school. More importantly, working on this project affirmed that pursuing a career in academia or art museum curatorial work is my ideal pathway.

Peter Blume
Peter Blume, The Eternal City, 1934-1937, The Museum of Modern Art Collections