By Jailene Adorno
Photos are CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Dr. Kellie Jones is an art historian and curator who was recently named a MacArthur Fellow for her research in African American and Latin American Art History. She is also an art history professor at Columbia University.
What inspired Dr. Jones the most to do research on African American and Latino artists, was her New York City upbringing and education. She went to a high school that was dedicated to the arts—known today as LaGuardia High School—and she was surrounded by diverse artists in a very diverse city. Yet, she found that a lot of the artists that she was reading about didn’t represent any of the artists she knew.
After conducting further research at Amherst College, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree, she became more interested in the African diaspora and how the culture has influenced art. She also learned a lot about the Mural Movement, and Los Tres Grandes—Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco. These artists were famous Mexican muralists known for the political and social messages within their art. Dr. Jones became very interested in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as well—which featured public projects to give jobs to the unemployed—and artists such as Charles White and Hale Woodruff, African American muralists.
Dr. Jones was more interested in putting the spotlight on artists who should be celebrated than making art herself. Therefore, it was a natural transition for her to go from student to art curator. Soon after receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University, she went on to share her knowledge of art history with students.
“For me, teaching and curating go hand-in-hand,” says Dr. Jones.
Although she never thought she’d be teaching, she found a special kind of joy in being able to analyze different pieces of art in and out of the classroom. There are some art pieces that Dr. Jones only knows through reproduction. However, by taking her students to view the art in person, they can experience the true depth of the art in relation to its color and size.
“The research allowed me to find different artists,” she says. “The exhibition component allows me to put things on view.”
In 2011, Dr. Jones released a book titled EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (Duke University Press), which features a collection of her writing throughout her career as an art historian and curator. Her upcoming book, South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (Duke University Press), discusses what life was like for African American artists living in Los Angeles. Here, she discusses the supportive artist community that was present and how many of the artists were inspired by their migration from the South to the North and West.
“I wanted to think about how that migration changed some aspects of African American culture,” says Dr. Jones.
To learn more about Dr. Kellie Jones, click here.