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Art Department


Three Win Awards for Writing in Art History

Three Win Awards for Writing in Art History

: WORD symposium winners (L-R) Juan Franco, Rachel Levens and Reilly Sinanan. .

Three Win Awards for Writing in Art History

: WORD symposium winners (L-R) Reilly Sinanan, Rachel Levens and Juan Franco. .

Three Win Awards for Writing in Art History

: WORD symposium winners with Dr. Elizabeth Darrow..

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The Written Word at Cornish: awards for writing in art history go to Reilly Sinanan (AR ’14), Rachel Levens (TH ’13) and Juan Franco (AR ’14).

It may surprise someone just looking in at Cornish College of the Arts the degree to which writing and research skills are stressed, and they might be more surprised still that the most visual of the subject areas, art, awards an annual prize for it. Each year the art department at Cornish presents an undergraduate writing symposium in art history at which three exceptional students present papers.  “This event will honor and reward students who successfully express in the written word their unique critical and intellectual perspectives and showcase research skills in art history this semester,” writes the department. “The papers selected for awards will reflect the highest standards for college writing and the personal artistic interests of the writer in the context of art history.”

This year the three winning students who presented their papers on April 17 and took home a cash reward were Reilly Sinanan,  Rachel Levens and Juan Franco. The three were presented with the awards by Cornish President Nancy Uscher. The awards were as follows:

First Prize, $500, Reilly Sinanan, art: Mannerism and a Violin Played Out of Tune.
Second Prize, $300, Rachel Levens, theater: Why Have There Been No Great Woman Artists: Looking at Marina Abramovic.
Third Prize, $200, Juan Franco, art: Reclaiming Our Humanity.

Dr. Elizabeth Darrow, Area Head of Art History, explains how it works. “All students taking art history in spring write research papers based on assignments created and coordinated by art history faculty,” she writes, “but those who enter WORD must go through two drafts and satisfy various other criteria.  The 35 submissions went through several selection stages and were ranked by seven panelists from various departments across the College in blind readings.”

The style and intellectual power of the three winners comes across clearly in excerpts from their papers, which follow. Dr. Darrow explains the approach of each.

“Reilly chose the prompt that asked for a comparison between the student’s own creative practice and/or work in relationship to another artist and their work,” writes Darrow, “within the historic and cultural contexts of the courses whether in “Visual Art History II: Renaissance through Romanticism or the Contemporary Art History & Criticism” class.  He investigated the essential tenets of the post Renaissance movement called Mannerism (1525-1576 CE) that is considered to be anti-Classical in its rejection of Ideal Beauty and characterized by the deformation of the human figure.  Reilly revealed that these young artists of the early 16th century were very radical, testing the bounds of conventional views of high art, but gaining more freedom for artistic experimentation as he demonstrates in his own shocking and provoking works.”

“As a young artist,” wrote Reilly Sinanan in Mannerism and a Violin Played Out of Tune, “I aspire to ask questions that should not be asked, to create images that should not be seen, and to cross borders that should not be crossed in a style where thematic intensity, visual absurdity and technical proficiency might co-exist.”

Dr. Darrow praises Rachel Levens use of deconstruction to take hold of her subject. “Rachel chose a prompt based on the critic, Linda Nochlin’s foundational essay Why Have There Been No Great Woman Artists? (1973). In her essay, Rachel
elected performance artist Marina Abramovic as a great post modern artist but confronted a very complex subject in feminist studies about gender labels and constructed identity in a focused argument about so-called ‘feminist’ art.  Rachel deconstructed Abramovic’s performances focused on the female body as materialism, mirror and sex object and how this work might contradict or reflect her own publicly stated positions.”

Rachel Levens writes in her paper Why Have There Been No Great Woman Artists: Looking at Marina Abramovic: “In the post-modern era where even the definition of ‘art’ has been blurred, is it even relevant to identify the ‘Great Women Artists’ ?  But rather the question should be ‘who are the great innovators ?’ testing themselves in order to increase our own understanding about the human experience.”

“Juan Franco,” writes Elizabeth Darrow, “chose the comparison prompt between his own work and another contemporary English artist, Matthew Stone, as reflective of the Joseph Beuys-inspired idea that the artist must act as a shaman or healer of the society in which they live.  This practice requires that everyday life become an act of conscious living and in that way can reform society—in large or small ways the awareness is personal and in Juan’s work this ritual is performed through the medium of the physical body.  This discipline has particular resonance and relevance in a society that is conflicted about the sexual preferences—Juan, the artist searches in the manifestation of the personal in the social through mass media tropes to find spiritual wholeness in contemporary American society.”

“In a Beuyisian (Joseph Beuys) tradition my everyday life becomes the work,” writes Juan Franco in Reclaiming Our Humanity, “identity, experience and the body all become inseparable ... and through deconstruction the viewer can recognize a relationship between sculptural elements and the underlying queer content of the work.”

“This year the results were close but decisive in the end,” says Darrow of the outcome of the adjudication. “Awards are possible due to the generosity of a private donor & President Nancy Uscher and the President’s Budget.” 

Darrow says that there are plans to increase the scope of the symposium to include teachers of the other “histories”: theater, music and dance. Already there are many students outside the area of art who take art history, but including work from all departments would vastly increase the number of students involved. She says that her peer group on the faculty are even talking about extending the symposium to other institutions in the region.


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