The Courtauld Experience

by Jennifer Spears Brown '00

Just ten weeks after graduating from Scripps, in August 2000, I enrolled in the MA program in the history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. It was an exciting time in my life, made possible by Gabrielle Jungels- Winkler ’72, who had created a scholarship through the Jungels- Winkler Family Foundation. I had transferred to Scripps in 1998 as a non-traditional student (read “older”; I was 30) with aspirations of pursuing a career as a museum curator.While an undergraduate, I held several internships, including the Michael and Jane Wilson Curatorial Internship at the Williamson Gallery, and another at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. By the time classes began at the Courtauld, I felt well on my way to making my goal a reality.

Needless to say,my experience at the Courtauld was very different from my years at Scripps.The reality of leaving the protected community of a women’s college, with its lush campus set against a backdrop of mountains, for a one-year intensive graduate program in a big city where I knew no one, began to set in about the second week of class.There was very little class time; indeed, I was in class only six hours a week.With a plentitude of distractions in London, it was initially a little hard to be disciplined. For a while I thought,”This is going to be a breeze!” How wrong I was.

After the first few weeks, my professors no longer gave lectures; rather, the students were to present papers we (presumably) had been preparing. So those weeks when I was taking in the sights of the city, making new friends, and generally wondering what I was supposed to be doing beyond reading the assigned text and leisurely compiling bibliographies for my paper topics, I should have been in the library making progress on my research! I remember feeling overwhelmed with how behind I already was, and the semester had just begun.

Only then did I understand that Scripps College had prepared me for this, and there was no need to panic.The senior thesis and upper-division seminars at Scripps are similar to the British educational system’s tutorials (which are composed of student presentations and one-on-one meetings with a professor) in that each requires students to be self-motivated and independent scholars. In addition to my thesis and seminars, I had taken an independent study in which I had worked closely with a professor on a set of questions relating to images of women in 19th-century American art. Likewise, I had had the opportunity to participate in the Humanities Institute, which required self-discipline and independent research on a topic of my choice in an area about which I had very little background:”Humanities and the Law.”

How much easier it was, then, to tackle independent research in 20th-century art, which had been my area of concentration as an undergraduate. Because of the foundation I built at Scripps College, I was able not only to catch up, but to excel in my program. I graduated from the Courtauld in 2001 with an MA in the history of art with a focus on nationalism, internationalism and cultural identity in Europe, c. 1907-1945.

After finishing my program at the Courtauld Institute, I returned to Los Angeles, where I worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as the Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow. At LACMA, I worked in the Modern and Contemporary Art Department on numerous exhibitions of 20th-century art, including American artists Stuart Davis and Jasper Johns, as well as Lee Mingwei, an artist from Taiwan now living in New York. Now that the fellowship has come to an end, I find myself back in school. I am a third-year doctoral student at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and I anticipate a fulfilling curatorial career. I am focusing on modern and contemporary art at the IFA and am considering a dissertation topic which examines the influence of Surrealism in art of the late 20th-century.

Reflecting on life “post-Scripps,” I am grateful that I am a part of a network of strong, confident women who are eager to encourage and support the success of fellow alumnae. Indeed, I attribute my academic and professional accomplishments to the strong foundation and personal relationships I forged during my years at Scripps.