Sometimes Lady Luck does pass my way.  I was recently awarded this year’s Winberta Yao Travel Award from the Mountain West Chapter of ARLIS, which means that not only do I get to attend the joint ARLIS/VRA conference in Minneapolis, network with colleagues and attend useful workshops, but I don’t have to pay for it.  Win win.  During the conference I will also be meeting my new mentor as part of the year-long career mentoring program.  She is the librarian and San Francisco MOMA, so is sure to be a great source of advice on my career development.

The recognition I have started to get as a result of winning this award is very validating.  The art librarian at UNM invited me out to coffee.  My boss at Bunting was kind enough to forward the announcement to the art history department, so I’ve been receiving congratulations from fellow students and professors.  It seems this kind of thing may truly be the key to the kingdom – get your name out there (for a positive reason, of course!) and the ball will start rolling.  Let’s see where it goes from here.

Thank goodness for the early brainstorm rolling in, because suddenly I’m feeling that there will be barely enough time in the semester to take care of business.  The resulting rain brought me a thesis topic in the form of petroglyph analysis down at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in the Mogollon region of New Mexico.  I knew I wanted to use an iconographic framework, and this gives me the opportunity to do both fieldwork and formal analysis, along with cultural contextualization.  Basically it will be an integration of everything that makes me love art historical research in general and the ancient art of New Mexico in particular.   And those petroglyphs are personal to me – one of them is even tattooed on my shoulder.

Being the academic masochist that I am, instead of recycling an old research paper for symposium, I have decided to present the theoretical framework for my thesis – which means I have little more than a month to get a draft ready.  The topic for my methodological problems paper for the Native American seminar is going to be the potential applications and limitations of using a linguistic/narratological approach to rock art analysis, and this is the foundation I plan to use for my research this summer and fall.  If my thesis flies, it will pave the way for a theoretical framework that has only been applied in Mesoamerican art.  If it doesn’t, I will be shot down at symposium.  I know the risks are there, but so is the possibility for true academic contribution.  If I don’t go for it, I will always know I chose the easy way out, which flies in the face of all the reasons I’m in grad school in the first place.

It helps that I have the full support of my professor, whose advice to climb out on some limbs and make bold statements has helped to give me the confidence I need.  As much as I have enjoyed my past research, to a certain extent it has all been regurgitation.  This feels original and important.  This feels like my Big Idea.

It was not exactly a revelation that I will be writing my thesis in the near future.  I have been brainstorming research topics for the past 2 years (and in a broader sense for much of my adult life).  Even so, this past week has been something of a wake-up call. 

I started my Native American methodology seminar, where we will be exploring the theoretical frameworks of art history from the perspective of Native art.  This will be extremely useful to me in framing my own theoretical position as well as giving structure to my research.  Our assignments are geared towards our individual projects, including an annotated bibliography of sources we plan to use in our theses.  That’s where the sudden panic set in…to create a bibliography I need a topic! Which means I need to formalize a thesis advisor, figure out when I will take thesis credits, etc…

The good news is it got me brainstorming in overdrive and inspired me to go in and check on my program of study in the grad office.  I am very much on track, just need to actually go through the motions.  I have a more solid idea now for a thesis topic.  The plan at this point is to get some feedback from my (potential) thesis advisor and get plugging away on the semester’s research, preparing for spring symposium, and setting the foundation for my thesis work this summer and fall.

Though this semester is shaping up to be even more intense than the last one, I am pretty excited about the months ahead.  Once again the first order of business is prioritizing and organizing my agenda to make sure I accomplish everything I set out to do.  Along with my research and cataloging projects, in large part this means redoubling my efforts toward professional development and funding opportunities.  It won’t be long before I’m wandering the aisles of the job market with basket in hand, and in the meantime I need to continue to find inventive ways to finance my grad school experience.

There are several things I’m working on at the moment – applications for conference travel awards (I’m planning to attend the joint ARLIS/VRA conference in Minneapolis this year as well as daydreaming about the VRA Summer Educational Institute), the semi-annual resume rewrite, and an interesting project through ARTstor that would also pay for travel expenses.  I’m also eligible for UNM scholarships this year, so that’s another possibility.  While I would like to continue working at Bunting for the duration of my degree, last semester’s budget situation goes to show just how tenuous funding sources can be.  Time to channel my creative energy.

As I was completing my internships in library school, I always found it useful to keep track of my progress and accomplishments with an internship journal.  Often this is part of the requirement for credit, but I think I would have done it regardless.  Otherwise I’m not sure that I would remember all the projects I worked on.  I decided to do the same kind of thing with my research assistantship, though on a weekly rather than daily basis.  I probably won’t post it every week, but here are the highlights from week 1:

1. Logged into the Bunting catalog (VISIC), learned how the database operates and compared the cataloging view and public view

2. Compared the metadata in the catalog to metadata in the VIRCONA database

3. Explored the functionality of VIRCONA

4. Compared images in ARTstor to what is in the catalog

5. Cataloged image sets from Universal Art Images (Abstract Expressionism and Picasso)

All of these things were useful and helped to familiarize me with the database and the procedures of the department.  The most satisfying was the process of cataloging – so nice to get back in a workflow state.

Obviously the last few months of 2010 became a more time-consuming phase than expected.  Grading, office hours, editing the departmental journal, publishing a new ARLIS book review….combined with an intensive research project on Teotihuacan iconography and continuing the Santa Fe gallery commute twice a week combined to throw me into a whirlwind.

The new year brings a new semester and new opportunities.  Likely a new whirlwind as well, though I am resolved to chart the process more often.  The most exciting change is starting my research assistantship this week at the Bunting Visual Resources Library, where I will be cataloging for the VIRCONA (Visual Resources Catalog of Native American Artists) database.  This is a great chance for me to get back in a library and get some new experience. 

This spring also brings my first symposium.  I will have to determine a research project suitable to present to my colleagues, which is somewhat daunting.  Luckily I am taking two courses in Native American art with two of the professors I would like on my committee, so their input will be valuable.

It’s fall break at UNM, which theoretically means a chance to catch up on everything that has fallen through the cracks.  Of course the reality is that I have been frantically grading stack after stack of student papers and midterms while pulling together my semiotics presentation.  To add to general frisson in the air, this is the week GA/TA/RA announcements were set to be announced.  It’s not easy to relax knowing our funding could be ripped out of our hands next semester.  This is especially hard on the out of state (and out of country) students.  They made the decision to attend UNM based upon a funding situation that has changed dramatically with the budget.  We’ve all been holding meetings and writing letters, but for the next semester at least the situation is pretty dire.

I lucked out in the end.  Not only did I get funding, I got my first choice assignment to work in the Bunting Visual Resources Library.  Some of my friends were not so lucky, and I can only hope they can find a way to finance their educations.

I am most fully engaged when I am researching something that I’m truly passionate about, which is why I found myself at 6:30 on a Sunday morning compiling my bibliography and tentatitive outline for a project considering the feather motifs in the murals at Teotihuacan for my Ancient American Narratives class.  Who needs sleep when you have iconographic analysis? My approach takes into consideration the research I did a couple years ago on bird and feather iconography on Pueblo pottery, and I guess in the back of my mind is a percolating thesis topic on an ancient  pan-American manifestation of transculturation through mythological and iconographic exchange.

After spending an afternoon grading papers, I’m finally feeling like a real teacher.  A frazzled, uncertain teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.  There are certain components to my GA position that I am finding very rewarding.  I like getting questions and clarifying things in new ways.  I like learning things from my students and being surprised by their insights.  I like seeing the art through fresh eyes.   I also find it a bit intimidating to be responsible for the grades of these people and take that responsibility very seriously, which is why it took me two hours to grade 8 exhibition reviews.

In the midst of my enlightenment about the GA experience is a looming cloud on the horizon.  After submitting my application for a spring assistantship (I am still leaning towards working in the Bunting Visual Resources Library, but that is in no way guaranteed) on Friday I attended a letter-writing campaign meeting to protest the proposed budget cuts to our department and the contingent cuts of approximately half our GA/TA/RA positions.  In other words, this may be the first and last semester I have the experience of teaching.

In other words, I’m glad I’m still working at the gallery part time.

Well, so much for the contemplative life of a creative aesthete.  The past month has spun me like a gyroscope as I continue to carve out a routine that allows me to balance fulfillment and personal space.  The major change of plans was my decision to continue freelancing at the gallery, which means I’ve been trekking into Santa Fe two days a week.  While I’m glad to retain my affiliation with the gallery and while the opportunity is something of a financial relief, it also means my schedule is much more constricted than I expected.  Add to that the carnival of moving, starting a new semester, juggling students, office hours, new friends, and my own research schedule, and the whole idea of contemplative semi-retirement is completely ridiculous.  Which is good.  Even though I’m back in my default whirlwind mode, it’s obvious to me that’s where I function most effectively.  As long as I have a routine (still very much a work in progress for this semester!) and a sense of purpose, I am at my most competent when busy rather than brainstorming new creative projects.  Maybe that’s a little disappointing – maybe I wish to be a little more right-brained.  But it also convinces me of the fallacy of the whole stereotypical American “retirement” dream for my own future.

As part of my new routine, I am resolved to write more often, ideally on a weekly basis.

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