Last Friday, my invitation to graduation arrived in the mail. It seemed rather premature as I am but a fraction of the way through researching and writing my final dissertation, but it was also rather fitting since the MA program at The Courtauld is one of the shortest Master’s degrees in Art History around: a mere nine months from the first day of lectures to the receipt of the diploma. Taking a (most welcome) moment away from my dissertation, I thought about the value of the nine month journey.
A full-blown immersive plunge into art history was what I was seeking. My degree brought me into challenging thought, interesting discussion, and engaging writing projects. But it all happened so fast! It makes me wonder if The Courtauld is better suited for those looking for a fast track to a PhD? What of those people, like me, who (at the moment) aren’t considering continuing the climb of the ivory towers?
In cooking, there is a process called blanching, which can be used for greens like spinach and wild garlic (currently in season here in the UK), consisting of boiling the greens for 2 minutes before submerging them in a cold water bath in order to extend their freshness in the freezer. While the culinary analogy seems incongruous (besides an immersion into all things art, I’ve also nursed my passions for yoga and, you guessed it, cooking), it is rather apt in this case. As a student, I was thrown into the deep end (the boiling water) and now, my gestation time (my 2 minutes/9 months) is just about up. Now for the cold water bath.
What does the freezer part of this analogy mean? Will I have a longer career than those people who do 2-year MAs? Or will I not find a job until next season? The future is yet to be unveiled.
More than anything, this year has been about independent work, whether it be the reading and preparation done for my weekly classes, or the research – both visual and bibliographic – undertaken for presentations, papers, and, especially this dissertation. During my time at The Courtauld, I have had more alone time to think and ponder (and visit different libraries) than any other time in my education.
Most valuably, this year has made me realize the human side of the art historical field. Through the multitude of talks, conferences, and events, I’ve been exposed to the relationships and collaborations that happen behind the articles, books, and scholarship. And those relationships extend beyond the art historical field as art history as a discipline is multi-disciplinary.
In the end, the knowledge I’ve gained is not exclusively an expertise in a specific area (although I’ve engaged with seminal texts and ideas surrounding the study of the male body in nineteenth-century European art); the lesson is more about independence: learning to have great expectations of myself, my thought processes, my research, my finished work. Left to ponder (with a little nudge in the right direction and a wealth of expertise at my fingertips), I tend to be my best and harshest critic, and I also tend to thrive.
So I am going to go register for my graduation ceremony, rent a cap and gown, and then finish my dissertation so that I can put the degree to good use. Cheers.