Maryan Ainsworth

Dec 2016

Professor Ainsworth's seminar is tough to get into, and for good reason. This seminar was probably the best class I've taken at Columbia, and Ainsworth is probably the best Professor I've had, and as a senior with one semester left I've had my fair share. Class is held at the Met (yes, really) once a week in the morning before the galleries open to the public. Ainsworth takes you through the European paintings galleries, focusing on Early Netherlandish works - her area of specialty. You'll get to learn about cutting edge developments in the technical examination of paintings, meaning that this isn't your ordinary art history class that limits your analysis to what you can see on the surface. Instead, she brings her expertise in the use of X-ray, IR, chemical studies, and more to the table. You'll be introduced to an entire world of underdrawings, retouching, and restoration that the typical museum visitor (or art history student) is seldom aware of. What you discover will be reinforced by the discussions you'll have when you visit specific departments in the Met that you'd never otherwise see - the conservation department in particular will blow your mind. If you're interested in art appraisal, or if you've ever been guilty of nerding out over an episode of Antiques Roadshow, this class will teach you how to ask the right questions to get to heart of determining authenticity, attribution, condition, and quality. I can count on one hand the number of classes that have taught me a skill set I could go out and use immediately, and this is one of them. I thought I got a lot out of my museum visits after a taking few art history classes, but in hindsight I hadn't even scratched the surface. I can't recommend this class or professor highly enough. If you get into the seminar, take it. I don't care if you have to turn your schedule upside-down to do it. That said, this is an upper level seminar and the material is dense. You get out what you put in and Ainsworth isn't an easy grader. After all, she did write the book(s) when it comes to a lot of what you'll be learning. Make no mistake, the work will be fascinating, but a word to the wise: it will feel much less like work and more like discovery if you truly love the art and research that you and those before you have dedicated to understanding it. As far as I'm aware this course is only offered in the Fall - so pay attention to the Spring application deadline, because it creeps up faster than you think! A final note - this is coming from an econ major with an art history concentration, so don't be discouraged from applying if you aren't majoring in art history. You need to have a firm grasp of the concepts to be successful, but this is not dependent on your major or prior course-load.