When she joined the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in October 2017, Katie Addleman-Frankel was in the midst of pusuing her PhD in Art History. We asked Katie to tell us more about her experience as a PhD student in Art History and how it has helped her since.
What prompted you to pursue a PhD in Art History?
I had completed a Master’s degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management at Ryerson University and decided that I wanted to pursue a curatorial career focused on photography. I knew that a PhD was a necessary qualification for the positions that most interested me, with art museums large enough to have standalone photography departments. I settled on Art History rather than Visual Culture or a related field because I had never taken any Art History classes and was very interested. I also figured that some formal training in this area would be important for an art-museum career!
How would you describe your PhD experience in Art History at U of T?
It was overwhelmingly positive. I felt supported and engaged all the way through. I felt like all the faculty I came into contact with wanted me to succeed and like department staff were always ready to help. And I had wonderful opportunities to spend time doing research and working in institutions abroad and to gain experience with teaching and designing courses. For me, the program was an ideal mix of independence and support.
How did your education prepare you for your curatorial career?
It gave me the opportunity to work in many collections—institutional and private, museums and libraries—and begin to understand how they operate, and the relationship between these collections and our academic field. It taught me how to present my work in a compelling way and clearly define the stakes of my research. It gave me opportunities to teach, which many curators do to greater and lesser degrees, and to practice public speaking, which we do constantly. Maybe most importantly, it helped me to understand that I could make a contribution to the field.
What advice would you give to undergraduate students who are thinking of pursuing art history studies?
If we’re talking about students interested in a career in a related field, I would advise thinking broadly about what that might be and aiming to gain hands-on experience in whatever environments appeal most. There are many careers for people inclined to work with and around art and artists that are hidden from public view. Studying art history opens up possibilities in museums, galleries, auction houses, and elsewhere that go well beyond the more public-facing roles.
Is it possible for an art historian to have one favourite work of art?
I’m sure it is, for a more decisive art historian than me. Making choices between works of art is an agonizing part of my job.