Friday, April 23, 2010

After Orals

Good news: I passed my Oral Exam! Hopefully that is the last exam I will ever take. I studied for about 6 months, I felt relatively confident about certain areas and hesitant about other areas, and I had practice sessions with co-students/friends. Yet, taking the exam still turned out to be an incredibly unpredictable experience that was both agonizing and rewarding. My thanks to KZ for being such an awesome study partner, and to RL, PR, and MS for giving me great practice sessions! For the record, my examining committee members were Profs. Patricia Mainardi, Judy Sund, and Sally Webster. Here’s the low-down on the images and issues.

Focus Area: Classicism in British Painting & Sculpture, 1785-1900 (note: I was only shown sculpture)
1) John Gibson, Tinted Venus (1851-56) and Frederic Leighton, Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1874-77) [images above]
2) John Flaxman, Fury of Athamas (1790-94) and Francis Chantrey, Monument to David Pike Watts (1817-26)
Issues: modes of classicism, polychromy, marble/bronze, idealism/naturalism, ancient/Renaissance models, nationalism, classicism and modernity

Minor: American Art, 1750-1945
3) Albert Moore, Pomegranates (1865-66) and James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No. III (1865-67) [note: Moore is British, but what is Whistler?]; issues: classicism/Japonisme, Aesthetic Movement, artistic training
4) Benjamin West, Death of General Wolfe (1770) and Charles Willson Peale, Exhumation of the Mastodon (1805-08); issues: history/genre painting, academic training, American identities
5) John La Farge, Kwannon Meditating on Human Life (late 1880s-1908) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Adams Memorial (1890-91); issues: Japonisme, Symbolism, decorative art

Major: European Art, 1750-1900
6) Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey in the Oak Forest (1809-10), John Constable, study for Hadleigh Castle (1828-29), and Ernest Meissonier, Ruins of the Tuileries (1871); issues: Romantic/documentary ruins, nationalism, death/rebirth [note: always know the book cover images of your professors’ books!]
7) Joseph W.M. Turner, Rain, Steam, Speed: The Great Western Railway (1844), William Powell Frith, Railway Station (1862), and Claude Monet, Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877); issues: railway/industry, genre/landscape painting, light/color
8) Paul Serusier, Talisman (1888) and Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Bellevue (1882-85); issues: Post-Impressionist modes of landscape painting, proto-abstraction in color/form
9) Bertel Thorvaldsen, Jason with the Golden Fleece (1808-28) and Auguste Rodin, Monument to Balzac (1898); issues: monumental sculpture, classical/realistic body
10) Jacques-Louis David, Death of Socrates (1787) and Eugène Delacroix, Barque of Dante (1822); issues: Neoclassicism/Romanticism, classical/Renaissance body types

Looking back on all this, I think some of these image groups included unusual works one rarely sees. In some ways that bothered me, but then again obviously that’s part of the experience of this exam. Because of my interest in British art, there were more British works than most probably see. On the other hand, no one showed me Pre-Raphaelite paintings because presumably they expected I would know those. Of the groups above, I did well with my focus area (British sculpture) and my minor (I was told I’m a “closeted Americanist”), but I had a more challenging time with #s 6-8 for different reasons (e.g. why 2 Post-Impressionist landscapes? ugh!). Keep in mind that by the second hour I was seriously losing steam (railway pun unintended).

So if you ever have to take an exam like this, expect the unexpected. As much as you may prepare for anything, you will not be prepared for everything. Part of this exam is to test how you can improvise and respond to works you may not have seen before or ever thought of paired together. Fortunately, the other half of the exam is addressing canonical works/issues you will know. That said, everyone’s experience will be different because everyone brings different skill levels to this kind of exam. The choice of examining committee makes a big difference too. But there is one piece of advice I received from a few people that definitely worked for me. When you see the images, breathe. Those few seconds will give you a chance to collect your thoughts and allow you to articulate how you want to respond to the images.

(Image credits: Walker Art Gallery, Tate Britain, Butler Institute of American Art, RJ Swanson on Flickr)

No comments: