Julie Thomson *07
The M.A. program in Art History at UMass Amherst provided me with a broad background in art history, while also allowing me to focus on Modern and Contemporary Art. Tim Rohan, Claire Daigle, and Walter Denny’s courses in their various areas continue to influence my activities and research, from leading architectural walking tours at Preservation Durham to presenting along with Claire at the 2014 ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 6 conference.
Studying art history can provide an important background for a wide variety of careers and endeavors. Being visually literate also has wide-reaching implications for the world. The work of many artists can change the ways we see the world. Art historians can foster connections between art and people in ways that extend the impact of what artists create.
When I was starting out, it never occurred to me to look at jobs in publishing, but I now oversee the direct marketing program for the approximately 120 titles we publish each year at Duke University Press. I supervise the production of our seasonal catalog, manage course adoptions and desk and exam copy requests, and work with our sales data. I also have a hand in the cover art process for our books, something that evolved out of my background in art history. We have a team of extremely talented designers and the Press, and we are known for our award-winning design. I am involved in the initial review of cover art possibilities and I often make suggestions of contemporary art that we could use. Sometimes the suggestions I make end up being used for the final cover, but even when they aren't, my research helps the editors, marketing team, and designers talk about what they want the cover to look like and what it should communicate to potential readers.
I advise people starting their careers to pay attention to their natural interests and look for careers in those fields. Having a wide range of skills and experiences opens up possibilities you might not have even thought of. See as much art firsthand in museums that you can. You'll learn things from this in ways that might not always be evident at the time, but that accumulate in your mind in ways that could be helpful in the future. If you're thinking of a career in publishing, look to see who has published some of your favorite books, and then visit their website to see what types of positions they have, as well as the skills they are looking for.
Beyond my work at Duke University Press, I also continue to do art historical research and writing as an independent scholar and curator. My writing has appeared in the Black Mountain College Studies journal, Indy Week, Raw Vision, Art Lies, and ...might be good. My website is: http://juliejthomson.blogspot.com/