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Arts Vanity: My Art History Obsession Has Gone Too Far

By Courtesy of Alisa Regassa and Joey Huang
By Arielle C. Frommer, Crimson Staff Writer

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an inexplicable obsession with art. I came into Harvard considering a concentration in History of Art and Architecture, and while I have since ventured into STEM, I’ve stubbornly managed to make art history a part of my Harvard experience nonetheless.

It began when I wrote a short-lived Arts column titled “Portrait of the Female Artist,” where I examined the legacy of famous female artists, but the discipline has since infiltrated my entire section of the Crimson Arts Board. When I’m not putting together a series of Arts writers’ favorite art at Harvard, bothering outgoing Campus Exec Allison S. Park with museum-related pitches, or begging my writers to cover the art world for Culture — from the British Museum theft scandal and lost and found masterpieces to climate activists attacking a Velasquez painting — I’m steadily finding ways to incorporate art history into every other activity I do on campus.

I’ve worked at the Harvard Art Museums for the last year and a half, where I somehow manage to convince tour goers that I am remotely qualified to talk about art history despite concentrating in Astrophysics and Physics and only having taken one HAA class at Harvard. I temper their confusion (or perhaps increase it) by explaining that my tour actually connects the seemingly entirely disparate subjects of art and astronomy! All jokes aside, the opportunity to combine two of my favorite passions has been more fulfilling than I could’ve ever imagined, and I look forward each week to giving tours (Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. — shameless plug) and fielding questions about Claude Monet and the James Webb Space Telescope in the same breath.

So when thinking of a vanity topic, where I’d have the chance to write about art that’s important to me, who better to talk about than my favorite artists? The idea for this article came from a PowerPoint night I hosted with the Harvard Undergraduate Art History Society, lovingly abbreviated as HUAHS, of which I am Co-President along with fellow Arts staff writer and Social Media Exec Hannah E. Gadway – yet another art-themed extracurricular that’s completely unrelated to my concentration and long-term career goals!

Spawning from the glorified fan fiction that I shared at the HUAHS event, I present: If famous artists were students at Harvard, here is who I think they would be and why.

Claude Monet

Concentration: East Asian Studies

Secondary: Environmental Science and Public Policy

A world-famous French painter who founded the Impressionist movement, Monet would be one of those people on campus who everyone knows. He would absolutely major in East Asian Studies — he and many other Impressionists were fascinated by Japanese culture, and the term Japonisme was coined in late 19th-century France to describe the influence of Japanese culture on Western art (sometimes to questionable degree that bordered on cultural appropriation? It’s complicated). Monet also loved his water lilies, and today his beautiful gardens at Giverny are open to the public! So, he would definitely pursue a secondary in Environmental Science and Public Policy. Monet would successfully comp the Advocate Art board but never actually design anything. He rejected the artistic conventions of the Salon and started his own art movement, so if at Harvard, I imagine he’d start his own underground art magazine.

Vincent van Gogh

Concentration: Comparative Study of Religion

Van Gogh is one of the most recognizable artists today for his iconic artworks and colorful personality, but he didn’t seriously devote himself to becoming an artist until later in life. He originally trained to be a minister — however, his religious zeal was so great that the church hierarchy rejected him. How can someone be so religious that even the church said “too much??” Anyways, Van Gogh would definitely pursue a religious-themed concentration at Harvard. Van Gogh would also be rejected from Humanities 10, the Signet, and the Advocate, as he led a lonely life and was largely unrecognized for his artistic merits. However, his brother Theo (a successful art dealer who supported Vincent his whole life) would be graduating Phi Beta Kappa and have a job lined up after graduation.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Concentration: Art, Film, and Visual Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy

Georgia O’Keeffe was an American modernist painter often known for her evocative paintings of natural forms, particularly flowers. With her combined interest in art and nature, she would probably pursue a joint degree in AFVS and ESPP and write the coolest thesis ever. She would also successfully comp the Advocate and the Signet (sorry Van Gogh). O’Keeffe painted beautiful advertisements for a silk manufacturing company, so she would be sure to get involved with anything fashion-forward on campus. O’Keeffe would be a proud designer for FIG magazine and have her boyfriend (famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz) photograph all their shoots!

Leonardo da Vinci

Concentration: Astrophysics

Leonardo Da Vinci would be a true “Renaissance man” — literally, like the phrase was named after him. A man of many talents, Da Vinci dabbled in painting, engineering, philosophy, sculpture, astronomy, and botany, among numerous other pursuits. Oh, and he painted the “Mona Lisa.” If he went to Harvard, he’d be one of those people who’s taken so many gap semesters that his friends are doubtful he’d ever graduate. He also changes his concentration literally every week and is allegedly doing a concurrent masters? But in what is truly a mystery. Right now he’s settled on Astrophysics, but mostly just so he can tell people that he studies Astrophysics.

Frida Kahlo

Concentration: Integrative Biology

Secondary: Ethnicity, Migration and Rights

Frida Kahlo was a popular surrealist artist from Mexico with an inspiring life story. As a Harvard student, Kahlo would probably be pre-med, concentrating in Integrative Biology. Her initial ambitions were to become a doctor, and she was training in the natural sciences with the intention of becoming a physician before a serious bus accident changed the trajectory of life and set her on the path to becoming an artist. She would definitely pursue an EMR secondary to study Mexican history and design sets for ¡TEATRO! shows, since she was super passionate about her Indigenous roots, reclaiming traditional folk art, and redefining her Mexican heritage.

John Singer Sargent

Concentration: History of Art and Architecture

Citation in French

John Singer Sargent is one of the most famous and celebrated American portraitists, but did you know he spent most of his life in Europe? He was literally born in Italy and trained in Paris. Sargent was the definition of a poser, so at Harvard he would study HAA with a citation in French because he is #cultured but line up a Goldman Sachs internship each summer. He would also exclusively drink Blue Bottle coffee. Sargent painted many prominent and rich figures in society and frequently rubbed shoulders with socialites, so he would definitely join the Hasty Pudding social club to source commissions and schmooze. He would only study in Widener Library, underneath the beautiful murals he would go on to paint!

Thomas Eakins

Concentration: Neuroscience

Prominent Philadelphian painter Thomas Eakins has a soft spot in my heart. He only received portrait “commissions” from close friends because he didn’t flatter his sitters but painted them as they were, flaws and all. He sought to reveal a person’s character and depict their innermost self, and his portrait subjects often appeared introspective and lost in thought, so he would definitely be a Neuroscience concentrator. Eakins was also deeply interested in anatomy and the human form, striving to paint with painstaking realism, depicting surgical scenes like “The Gross Clinic,” and even considering a career in surgery; he sounds just like the conflicted pre-med. Eakins would also try to walk onto novice rowing because he loved his athletes — he grew up playing lots of sports and first became famous for his picturesque rowing scenes in oil and watercolor.

Andy Warhol

Concentration: Economics

Secondary: Art, Film, and Visual Studies

Warhol — our pop art king — would absolutely thrive at Harvard. He began his career as a commercial illustrator, so he would probably concentrate in Economics. He often did celebrity portraits, so he would definitely know all the nepo babies on campus. He has an artsy side though: Warhol would take a few AFVS classes and draw the covers of the Independent, because it just makes sense. He had a longstanding interest in drag and the gay liberation movement, so Warhol would definitely slay in Adams Drag Night.

Caravaggio

Concentration: ????

Respectfully, Caravaggio was crazy. Besides being an influential artist of the Baroque period, he was a notable rogue; Caravaggio was forced to flee Naples for murder, had his face disfigured in a violent brawl, was routinely imprisoned, and endured numerous attempts on his life. If he went to Harvard, literally none of his friends would know what he was concentrating in or if he even declared. He would currently be on leave of absence — rumors speculate he was Ad Boarded for cursing out a professor. He would also most definitely join a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine…

—Outgoing Culture Exec and incoming Editor-at-Large Arielle C. Frommer, who definitely doesn’t write fan fiction about famous artists in her spare time, can be reached at arielle.frommer@thecrimson.com.

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