Art 101 is organized around three ideas: Art has formal qualities. The contexts in which it is produced and is seen matter. And all art builds on the art that came before. The same could be said, in a way, of art historians. Your lectures, scholarship, and curatorial work have been meticulously crafted in ways that, quietly but forcefully, dazzled audiences by showing how great art is intellectually, as well as visually, compelling. Who knew that Mona Lisa’s mere hands conveyed so much social and cultural history? One context in which you have produced this work has been as the first woman in the department—a group of colleagues, now wonderfully diverse, to whom you have provided generous support, as you have to the college as a whole, and to the many alumni who have rushed to hear you lecture here in Williamstown and on study trips abroad. Your work also has come in the context of changing emphases in art history, including toward greater attention to female artists and to the roll of gender in artistic expression—developments that you have contributed to. Then there are the art historians who preceded you, in particular the legendary members of your own department. Uncowed by these colossi, you took their practices and made them distinctively, effectively, even artfully your own.
I hereby declare you J. Kirk T. Varnedoe ’67 Professor of Art, Emerita, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.
June 3, 2018