Why I chose to study History of Art - PhD
Before starting my History of Art PhD I completed an MSc in Modern Art: History, Curating, Criticism at the University of Edinburgh, which I chose both for the excellent reputation of the History of Art department at Edinburgh and for the vibrancy of Edinburgh itself as a city. I wanted to be somewhere that had culture and art as part of its make-up. I was particularly attracted to what the city could offer in terms of contemporary art, through its institutions and people.
As I came to the end of my Masters degree, I began to talk to my tutors about the possibility of doing a PhD. My Masters dissertation, on the subject of walking in contemporary art practice, felt like the beginning of a much deeper research enquiry, and so became the basis of my research proposal. It was particularly through conversations with Dr Tamara Trodd, who had taught me on the Masters course and became my PhD supervisor, that I began to distil this proposal and became excited about further study.
My time at ECA
Studying for my PhD gave me time to think and write in depth about art that I love, and what it can mean to us. My research skills and writing got better over the years and I noticed my knowledge of art history and my confidence in my thoughts about art practice growing.
My PhD thesis was entitled ‘Pace, rhythm, repetition: Walking in Art Since the 1960s’, and included chapters on the work of Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Trisha Brown and Janet Cardiff. Two of these artists are part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection, with which the University had struck up a research partnership the year I started my PhD. This provided numerous opportunities to organise events and air my research in a public forum, as well as managing groups of interns working on research and events in relation to ARTIST ROOMS, all experience which has proved very useful in my ongoing career. I knew even before I started my PhD that I would prefer a career in research in public facing art institutions rather than in academia, so I also taught undergraduates and worked freelance for the National Galleries of Scotland alongside my research and work with ARTIST ROOMS.
My supervisor would often ask me to pull back from my involvement in other projects so I could focus on my research, which perhaps I would do if I had my time again – maybe that would mean I would have submitted my thesis far earlier! Having said that, my involvement with other projects and institutions expanded my networks considerably, allowing me to embed myself in the Edinburgh artworld. These connections go on to fuel the work I do now.
My experiences since graduating
I was extremely fortunate that shortly before I submitted my PhD thesis a job at the Fruitmarket Gallery came up, which I applied for and got. It suited my interests and experience perfectly, and I am still in post. I realise that many recent graduates would not be so lucky! My experience at ECA prepared me so well for what I now do – my role combines research with public facing work, and everything I learnt at ECA comes into play. I write and commission interpretation materials for all our exhibitions, look after our library and archive, and am able to continue working with ECA as I manage the Fruitmarket’s partnership with the MScR in Collections and Curating Practices.
One of the highlights of working at the Fruitmarket was in 2019 when we commissioned Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller to create a video walk – Night Walk for Edinburgh – which I appeared in as an extra. Having written about their work in my thesis, it was an incredible and surreal leap to now be part of one of their artworks.
My advice to new and current students
If you are entering your first year of University, enjoy it, relish the time you have to study, take up opportunities that come your way, try new things and find what excites you. But also don’t over-burden yourself – try to get the work/life balance right.
For someone graduating this year, I hope the pandemic will not hold you back. If there’s somewhere you want to work or gain experience, reach out to them even if they are not currently advertising. The worst that can happen is they can say no, but you may just find it’s the start of something.