Department of Art and Art History News

Visual Art Studies Student Julia Caswell Competing in University-Wide Undergraduate Research Showdown

Fri. October 14, 2016

two viewers in a gallery listening to an audio guide and raising hands
By virtue of its pioneering experimentation with digital technologies, museum education has moved out from the periphery of conversations in education. Here at The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Art and Art History, our Visual Art Studies undergraduates are given the resources and the mentorship to think big in terms of digital technology and the museum experience. Visual Art Studies senior Julia Caswell’s experience is a case study for what can be accomplished. Caswell is currently participating in the Texas Undergraduate Research Showdown, presenting her research into new strategies for digital engagement for museums through audio walks.


Be sure to check out Julia’s project and VOTE for her research to advance to the final round!

“Research plays an important role in the undergraduate Visual Art Studies (VAS) program,” writes assistant chair of the Art Education program Dr. Christina Bain. “Since our field examines questions that generally focus on people, learning, and creativity, qualitative research methodologies are well suited for this type of field-based research. VAS students have multiple opportunities to practice research strategies during their coursework and participate in the Undergraduate Research Showcase annually.”

We decided to interview Caswell to find out more. Interview conducted over email.


Could you explain a little bit about your project for Undergraduate Studies Texas Research Showdown?

Julia Caswell: My participation in the Undergraduate Studies Texas Research Showdown is bounded by two objectives. First, the competition’s video requirement asks students to explain their creative research to a general audience. Within the competition format, other students on campus can vote on their favorite entries in the competition and the top six applicants—three voted in by popular vote and three selected by a panel of UT judges—are invited to present their work to a live audience at the final round on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Secondly, my objective going into this project and this research was to investigate systematically how audio walks were designed, implemented as educational programs and studied in a museum setting. Which meant that, while interning as the School Groups Program Intern at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, I proactively developed an audio walk. An audio walk is a digital program that you can use in an app-format that gives you interactive information to create an immersive experience with the work in the Cynthia C. Wainwright gallery. The design is meant to encourage engagement while directing viewers through the gallery, introduce children and their families to contemporary art, and utilize inquiry-based questions in the development of higher-level thinking, all while being easy-to-use and fun.

The implementation and testing were developed for the Children’s Museum of the Arts with their unique space and mission in mind. This is an idea I came up with while considering the needs of all the museum’s stakeholders, including the curators, administrators, teaching artists, art educators and most importantly the museum’s patrons. The museum was very open to the different avenues we could take with incorporating audio into their programming. With their willingness to try something new, I was able to create something that I feel really innovates and expands on best practices for education around contemporary art. 

What theoretical lens informed this project?

Some of the theory I was looking at was associated with engagement and experience. Similar to stories, audio walks have the enduring ability to capture one’s attention and engage it uniquely. Husserl and Bachelard’s conceptions of phenomenology play a role in this research and practice, specifically when we refer to reflection, first-person perspective and the kind of immediate reach of “the poetic image when it emerges into the consciousness as a direct product of the heart, soul and being of man, apprehended in his actuality" (Bachelard, 1964).

But also, I was looking at contemporary Canadian audio walk artist, Janet Cardiff and her understanding of phenomenology as connected to “user’s experience.” Cardiff uses simple and straightforward “technology to create a complex, virtual reality in which the 'real' becomes inseparable from the virtual” (Sohal, 2006, p. 73).


What other previous experiences have you had that led you to this field and this research?

It is hard to tell, at this point, what led me to this field and research. You know the old debate, which came first the chicken or the egg? I think the egg, for me, always comes before the chicken. I often have fully-formed pictures in my head and really just need others to enact them to make them real.

One experience that led me to this field and research was my involvement in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Graduate School Internship last semester. My graduate mentor, Allison Clark, who now works in education at the Getty museum, worked with me on a multi-directional mentorship that engaged my passions. We crafted a syllabus and had a conversation in her office once a week. This informed everything I do and I am so thankful for this experience.

I can remember, after a reading about art and technology for a Visual Art Studies class and then having a conversation within a philosophy and criticism course, asking myself and my class, “How are we preparing future students?” It's not just technology as hardware anymore, it’s culture. It’s the way we communicate with one another and the environment that communication creates. For an educator, that becomes a question about the way we teach. So the question behind my research became: What drives today’s students to participate in educationally purposeful activities? What I found was an emphasis on personalized experience among new technologies. The experience of an audio walk is immersive and engaging. Audio walks challenge the user's sense of ordinary. Although an audio walk can be administered as a group, the emphasis of personal cognition is a dynamic tool audio walks employ. As a result, students feel a personal sense of relevance with the curriculum.


In the video, you describe a gap between theory and practice in contemporary museum education. Could you explain?

I think the field of art education is always trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice. My research is in response to what I observed in this particular museum. Twenty first century skills such as problem solving, creativity and communication play a huge role in what art educators do. In conversation with those I had the privilege to work with at CMA, I realized there was a gap between the theories contemporary art draws upon and the actual engagement of the visitors. They were having different conversations entirely. The educator and/or the art historian is normally the filler of that gap, whether by leading tours, programming or holding guided discussions of the work. But I wanted to take it a step further beyond the traditional didactic texts that accompany works in a museum. Audio walks can be a combination of the sound from the actual surroundings overlaid with sounds from past experiences, movie soundtracks, musical instruments, narrative, etc. Audio walks allow the viewer to embody the experience in a variety of ways and not only receive information. 
Additionally, the audio walk employs gamification as an engagement strategy. In the development of the audio walk, I used game-design elements and game-principles. Even something as simple as asking a young user to find all of the basketball hoops in a painting, can significantly increase the level of engagement with the work. At its heart, this research suggests the possibilities of reaching contemporary youth learners who are adept at technology and giving them a platform for learning through personal relevance. 


In Memorium: Adam Boley

Thu. October 13, 2016

woman swimming in water

On Sunday, September 4, 2016, our community suffered the loss of a faculty member and alumnus, Adam Boley (M.F.A. in Studio Art, 2016).

Boley graduated from our M.F.A. program in Studio Art the spring of 2016 and came to the Department of Art and Art History staff in the Fall semester as a lecturer in photography. During his time with the department, Boley assisted artist Ann Hamilton in the execution of her work for the Dell Medical Center, O N E E V E R Y O N E. “I have many very beautiful photographs of Adam from the photography sessions for Dell,” writes Hamilton. “I think they capture—something in him, a lightness and weight, reflectivity, a humor. I watched him work with everyone we photographed, how he put everyone at ease and made the air lighter with his empathy. I will never watch a duck land down in water without thinking of him.”

two ducks

Boley earned his undergraduate degree in Photography at St. Edwards University in Austin. His work has been in numerous exhibitions, including those at Time Waste Management in Orlando, Florida (2016); The Mom Gallery, Austin; 60 Orange St, Providence, Rhode Island (2015); Locker 95, Austin (2015); and Pump Project Art Complex in Austin (2014).

He was born and raised on a ranch outside of Georgetown, TX, and his work reflects a connection to the landscape and history of the state. “Texas was a central character in his work,” said Department of Art and Art History Chair Jack Risley. “He was able to channel the friction between its historic myth and its suburban present in work that captured both the serenity and violence of the rural landscape.”

Service for Boley took place in early September in Georgetown, TX.

Art and Art History Faculty Invited to Guest Lecture around the World

Thu. October 13, 2016

Design program Assistant Chair Carma Gorman
Design program Assistant Chair Carma Gorman

Design associate professor and assistant chair of the Department of Art and Art History’s Design Division Carma Gorman, Studio Art professor Michael Smith and Art History associate professor Dr. Penelope Davies have each been invited to give lectures in their specialty areas this fall.

In early October, Gorman gave a lecture called "What's American About American Design?" at the University of South Carolina, North Carolina State University, and the University of Richmond. Gorman proposes a new way of defining "American design," identifying some of its distinctive traits, and argues that the national peculiarities of U.S. design are in many cases direct responses to the globally anomalous characteristics of U.S. laws and standards.

Associate Professor Penelope Davies
Associate Professor Penelope Davies

Associate professor Davies gave a paper at The Alternative Age of Augustus conference in Cuma, Italy. Her paper, titled “Augustus’ Urban Renewal: Visionary or Derivative?”, challenges the characterization of Augustus as a visionary (e.g Favro 1998). Davies argues for the role of Republican government in preventing a unified building urban ‘program’, and the reluctance of those magistrates charged with construction to commit themselves to far-reaching public building policies. The change of urbanistic approach, she contends, came not with Augustus but with Julius Caesar.

Transmedia Professor Michael Smith
Transmedia Professor Michael Smith

Transmedia Professor Michael Smith will be speaking alongside Brandon Zech, Assistant Editor at Glasstire, at Artpace in San Antonio about the changing role of the artists and the artist as curator. As the two identities have become increasingly linked, there is a fluidity in a what role you take in the art world. The discussion hopes to parse out how this came to be.

Professors in Art Education Publish New Book, Are Honored by Texas Art Education Association

Wed. October 12, 2016

Dr. Paul Bolin
Dr. Paul Bolin, editor of Revitalizing History and 2016 TAEA Distinguished Fellow

The last academic conference on the history of art education was held at The Pennsylvania State University in 1995. In 2015, recognizing a dearth of scholarship in historical research among visual arts educators, assistant chair of The University of Texas at Austin’s Art Education Program Dr. Paul Bolin and his colleagues Dr. Ami Kantawala (Teachers College, Columbia University) and Dr. Mary Ann Stankiewicz (The Pennsylvania State University) organized the first conference on the history of art education held in the last two decades. Research submitted to the conference, “Brushes with History: Imagination and Innovation in Art Education History,” would later give rise to the forthcoming publication, Revitalizing History: Recognizing the Struggles, Lives, and Achievements of African American and Women Art Educators.


Edited by Bolin and Kantawala, Revitalizing History recognizes the historical role that many overlooked individuals—particularly African Americans and women—have played in the field of art education, and acknowledges the importance of history and historical research in this digital age. “The history of art education, similar to the traditional canon of art history, has been dominated by white men like Walter Smith,” remarked Bolin. “My colleagues and I felt that an introduction, or a re-visitation to the contributions of other art educators on the periphery of our historical view would challenge our field with new and more complex stories that are yet in the making, and provide a platform to sustain a vibrant culture of groundbreaking scholarship in art education. The papers submitted from faculty and researchers across the US has proven this point.”

Historical inquiry forms the foundation for much research undertaken in art education. While traversing paths of historical investigation in this field visual art educators may discover undocumented moments and overlooked or hidden individuals, as well as encounter challenging ideas in need of exploration and critique. In doing so, history is approached from multiple and, at times, vitally diverse perspectives. Revitalizing History hopes to generate conversations through publication that will encourage more interest in histories of art education, but also more sophisticated and innovative approaches to historical research in this field. Contributors to the publication include Art Education assistant chair Dr. Christina Bain and lecturer Dr. Heidi Powell, in addition to five former graduate students of the Department of Art and Art History’s Art Education Program.

Heidi Powell
Dr. Heidi Powell, contributor to Revitalizing History and recipient of Higher Education Division Outstanding Art Education Award

Bolin’s commitment to pioneering scholarship in the history of art education, advancement of the field, and his long-term contributions to the work of the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) have earned him the distinct honor of being inducted as a TAEA Distinguished Fellow at the association’s fall conference this November. Additionally, Dr. Heidi Powell will be awarded the TAEA Higher Education Division Outstanding Art Education Award that goes to the nominated individual who has significantly contributed to the field of art education on the state, local and national levels.



Khristaan Villela Appointed Director of Santa Fe Museum

Wed. October 12, 2016

Khristaan D. Villela
Khristaan D. Villela (M.A. in Art History, 1993; PhD in Art History, 2001) has been appointed Director of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M. Villela came to the museum from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD), where he was Professor of Art History and Scholar in Residence. 
Villela has curated exhibitions at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan, and the New Mexico History Museum. Most recently, he was consulting curator for Miguel Covarrubias: Drawing a Cosmopolitan Line at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.  Prior to his appointment at SFUAD, Villela was Eugene V. Thaw Professor of Art History at the College of Santa Fe and was the founding director of the Thaw Art History Center. He writes frequently for publications including New Mexico Magazine, El Palacio, ARTNews, Adobe Airstream, and he has a column in the Santa Fe New Mexican Pasatiempo section. He is the author of Ancient Civilizations of the Americas: Man, Nature, and Spirit in Pre-Columbian Art (Miho Museum, 2011); The Aztec Calendar Stone (with Mary Miller, Getty Publications, 2010); and Contemporary Mexican Architecture and Design (with Ellen Bradbury Reid and Logan Wagner, Gibbs Smith Publications, 2002). He is working on a book on the contributions of the Mexican artist, collector and curator Miguel Covarrubias to Pre-Columbian studies in US and Mexico in the mid-twentieth century. Another book project is the first publication of an album of 1860s photographs, the Souvenir of New Mexico, assembled by a US Army officer in New Mexico Territory. The album includes what may be the first photos of the Navajo, as well as important images of the Navajo captivity at Fort Sumner, NM.