MA in Art History

Our MA curriculum prioritizes traditional research methods, while also focusing on new media skills and hands-on learning via internships, curating coursework, and museum studies.

Charlotte Corneliusen, 2023

Charlotte Corneliusen

How did you decide to pursue an MA in Art History?

I have been an art history nerd since I was a teenager. I had dreamed of working in a museum since I moved to the DC area in 2009. I knew I would need a Master’s Degree to achieve this career goal. However, I found success at a humanitarian organization and put this dream aside for almost a decade. After finishing my BA in Art History at Arizona State University, I quit my job as an office manager and started graduate school to change careers.

How did you choose your specific area of study?

In my first semester of graduate school, Dr. Greet assigned a reading that discussed representation in Latin American art. I learned that Latino art in the United States receives much less museum, art market and scholarly attention than art originating in Latin America. In addition, it is often left out of American art, too. It made me upset. I had to try to increase representation and decided to focus on Chicana/o art because that’s my culture. 

What have you learned in an art history class that really surprised you/changed your perspective?

I learned there is so much more to Egyptian art than embalming and mummies. The decolonized, feminist approach Dr. Williamson brings to ancient art made it easy for me to understand, although our specializations are on opposite ends of the art history timeline.

I also never liked medieval art before, but Dr. Gearhart’s enthusiasm is infectious. I enjoyed learning about the Middle Ages as global and interconnected through exchanges. 

I took Dr. Schulman’s fascinating Art and Environment course and was surprised to learn how old greenwashing and artwashing are in the United States. 

Have you had any internships? Or interesting jobs or volunteer experience? Tell us about it/them.

During three of my four semesters as a graduate student, I was a graduate assistant at Fenwick Library. I spent a year with the Special Collections Research Center. Bob Vay and I created a digital history project that uses geolocation to tell GMU’s history and traditions through its buildings and landmarks, The Mason Experience: Past and Present. We selected the locations, wrote essays about them, and then added photos, videos, and other archival materials connected to the site. There are also bits of art history included in the stories I wrote. We wanted students and alumni to enjoy the project, so I tried to bring that perspective. My research taught me that most of GMU’s traditions originated from students’ ideas. I also learned that someone I knew was behind many early Mason traditions between 1966 and 1970, so I interviewed him for the GMU oral history collection with Bob Vay’s assistance. Although The Mason Experience exists as a website, it is most effectively accessed via its app. The app will suggest stories based on which buildings are nearest to the user. It will help new students and faculty navigate the campus while learning about the legacy of which they are now a part.

In my final semester, I worked in Collections Strategy at the library. The difficulties I encountered researching Chicano art and Haitian art motivated me to apply for this position. I wanted to make the research experience better for future students. In addition, GMU’s art and art history library should reflect its global curriculum and student demographics. To accomplish this, I analyzed about 5000 art and art history titles purchased over the past five years for Global South content, calculated statistics, and summarized my findings and recommendations. My colleagues and I met with our vendor to implement changes to increase the number of diverse art and art history titles purchased across interdisciplinary subjects and a broader range of geographic areas. I also recommended changes to increase the number of exhibition catalogs collected. In addition, I updated the collection development policy for art history. My work will have a lasting effect on the art and art history monograph collection.

Any accomplishments you’re proud of? Opportunities you’ve taken advantage of? Brag a little!

I co-curated two exhibitions as part of the Curating Exhibitions course. I am proudest of the first one, La Vie Quotidienne. We got to restore the reputation of Haitian art, and the essay my group wrote about Haitian art history was my first scholarly publication. However, my favorite part of that exhibition was researching Stella Waitzkin and Renee Stout and presenting their works as Highlights from the GMU Art Collection.

The second exhibition, Reclaim, Rebirth, Reconsider, featured regional artists Sandy Williams IV, Steven Luu, and Page Carter. This exhibition gave me valuable experience working with living artists. It also led to Steven Luu inviting our class to join the curatorial team of the Healing Artist Collective, which he founded. Last summer, I worked on their exhibition at Mason Exhibitions Arlington, installing artworks, coordinating art education programming for military hospital patients, and facilitating art education activities for local youth.

Finally, I made a digital public history site, Public Art in East Germany, explaining the themes, artists, and historical background behind public art in the former GDR. I put a lot of work into this project and am proud of it.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career?

Dr. DeCaroli brought me to Mason and put in a lot of effort regarding my course substitution. Dr. Greet inspired me to write about art from my culture, challenged me to expand my research beyond the date range I usually focus on, and did a lot for our class exhibition and its catalog. Dr. Williamson brought out the best in my writing abilities and has extraordinary compassion for her students. Dr. Ho helped our entire class pass the slide exam. Dr. Mills Kelly gave me the support I needed when I was struggling, which helped me pull through a rough semester and create a cool project. Stephanie Grimm helped me get both of my jobs at the library. Bob Vay was an amazing mentor and co-creator. Lynn Eaton and Helen McManus were wonderful supervisors who empowered me to work on exciting projects and create change at the library.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

Download our app (Apple; Android); we made it for you! Look for graduate assistant jobs in the library; it’s a great place to work. Make friends with other students in your classes; you can support each other through the stresses of graduate school and job searching. If you are interested in contemporary art, meet students and faculty in the School of Art and attend Mason Exhibitions events.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

I am currently a contractor in the Luce Foundation Center, the open collection storage area at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

I hope to find a long-term curatorial or collections management position in DC. In the distant future, I want to work in the National Museum of the American Latino when it is eventually built.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am a first-generation student who enrolled in college for the first time when I was 35. I knew Mason was the right place to find the supportive community I would need to complete my MA in Art History.