About this Working Group and Opportunity to Participate

Ethics and Labor in Art History is a two-day convening of art history graduate students with the objective of articulating the state of the field, the conditions of our employment, and the ethical transgressions and future directions of the discipline.

Application and registration

Participation is limited and attendance at both days of events is requested. Participants will receive a stipend of $100.00 USD.

To apply please fill out the application questionnaire here by Monday March 15, 2021. Students will be notified by Tuesday March 23, 2021.

Please contact: [email protected] if you have any questions.


Thursday, April 8 and Friday, April 9, 2021

First, we must collectively examine our own positionalities, entanglements and investments. Graduate students who are simultaneously students and educators, are already shaping and being shaped by art history, whether they are sitting around a seminar table in discussion or standing behind a lectern of an undergraduate survey. Their experiences offer unique insights into the expectations, demands, and realities of the humanities. Since the advent of post-colonial studies, scholars have acknowledged that art history is a colonial project whose conventional methodologies and subjects of study have been criticized for being Eurocentric and straightforwardly dismissing the other. Graduate students have, unfortunately, inherited this project and often perpetuate it through standardized research models or traditional approaches to pedagogy. At the same time, emerging art historians more readily acknowledge their unique subject positions, due in large part to their awareness of the myriad barriers of entry into the field, which range from economic precarity to arduous racial, gender, and LGBTQ politics, geopolitical inequality, and maintenance of conventional disciplinary boundaries.

Recent responses to the colonialism of art history have posed important questions concerning the ethics of the field and how young scholars can address this criticism through their research and in their teaching. To this end, how do art history students confront the burdens of their field while promoting its relevance? How do they envision the future of art history, its teaching, and its audiences? How can they work toward diversity and inclusivity in the art history classroom? How do they shape their own scholarly paths while also navigating tenuous working conditions and a precarious field of employment? How can emerging art historians enact change in an artworld of predominantly white voices and while elite institutions in urban centers dominate discourse?

This two-day convening equally prioritizes knowledge gleaned from peers and the expertise of established scholars and artists. The first day engages stated questions from the position of ‘apprentice’ in small discussion groups, self-assessing many states of the field. The second day offers discussion-based seminar and workshop to more pragmatically grapple with, envision and transform the production and teaching of art history.

The Ethics and Labor in Art History convening is organized by María Beatriz H. Carrión and Lauren Rosenblum, doctoral students in Art History and sponsored by the James Gallery, The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Day One: Inheriting, Shaping, and Teaching a Discipline under Stress

Early Afternoon Session: Art Historians as Art Workers
Time TBD

This session will consist of small discussion groups to digitally unite students organized across geographical regions and size of educational affiliation. This platform provides a rare chance to create solidarity among distant colleagues who confront disparate working conditions while ultimately sharing stakes in the future of art history. In advance of these meetings participants will: complete a self-assessment reflecting on their scholarship and pedagogy, read short texts on disciplinary demography and canon formation, prepare a short presentation in response to the program’s topics, and contribute to a shared bibliography. A plenary session will bring together these small groups to envision the discipline as a more reflexive humanistic endeavor.

Late Afternoon Session: Art Historians without Art History
Time TBD

Facilitator: BFAMFAPHD

In the afternoon, the artist collective BFAMFAPHD will lead a program to encourage expansive thinking about the role of academic art history as a linked site within a network that must, in their words, “analyse and reimagine power relationships in the arts.” A series of activities will offer an alternative pedagogical framework that emphasizes contemplation, collaboration, community, and political economy.

Day Two: Moving Forward: Art History, Ethics, and Pedagogy

Early Afternoon Session: Is Art History Ethical?

Facilitator: Roland Betancourt (Professor of Medieval Art, University of California, Irvine)

Unlike in the social and medical sciences, most art historical education does not include training in ethics; in fact, much research in the field receives very limited ethical oversight. This lack of criticality is the most problematic in light of the current sociopolitical and environmental realities of our times, as well as of the controversial history of the field. From archival research to issues of methodology, it is fundamental to re-evaluate the ways in which the field operates, particularly in academic contexts. This seminar will address this problematic by exploring the following questions: What does an ethical practice of art history look like? Can we ethically study works of art that are foreign temporally, religiously, racially, or culturally? How can we diversify our bibliographical footprint without tokenizing minorities and scholarship from the Global South? Should art historical research respond to contemporary circumstances? In what terms and with what goal is it appropriate to study images of violence? How should we approach the work of artists who engaged in or contributed to criminal or problematic practices? When is it appropriate to advocate for the destruction of cultural heritage?

Late Afternoon Session: Inclusive, Anti Racist, and Decolonial Pedagogies
3:30pm - 5pm

Facilitator: Mia L. Bagneris (Associate Professor of Art of the African Diaspora & Studies of Race in Western Art, Tulane University)

The teaching of art history has come under public scrutiny in recent years due to the field’s traditional focus on European and American arts. While efforts regarding the de-Westernization of the field have included the elimination of the art history survey or its globalization, further questions about how to reinvent the teaching of art history have arisen. More recently, students and scholars have begun to question who has access to an art history education and whether one’s pedagogical approach should reflect and speak to the positionalities of different student bodies and institutions. Should we expect art history teachers to use their classes to address contemporary issues like racism and income inequality? How can instructors not only teach non-Western artwork, but also effectively incorporate non-Western cosmologies and philosophies? How can art historians learn and use tools like fieldwork from other disciplines like anthropology in order to better work with living people, oral histories, and community traditions? How to diversify the student body that constitutes most art history classrooms? How to guarantee that students in suburban and rural areas have equal access to museums as those in metropolitan sites? This workshop will introduce students to critical teaching practices.