Noah Ganun Cox is a junior majoring in Art History at New College of Florida. His winning essay is posted below. In his student statement he wrote:
As a student of Art History, a museum career has been my long term academic and professional goal. Studying at New College of Florida has provided me with opportunities to straighten my training in art history under a series of outstanding professors and the rich collection of the Ringling Museum of Art. I have taken classes across the spectrum of art history, from public art practice in the United States to early modern Asian art history.
My performance in my classes led Professor Katherine Brion (French Art) to invite me to present with her at the 2020 College Art Association’s annual conference, where I gave a talk discussing student mural work on my college campus.
Apart from this, Professor Kent Cao (Asian Art) invited me to present at the 2019 Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies conferences, where I presented my research on transcontinental religious transmissions of Christian and Buddhist resurrection motifs.
To prepare myself for the museum world, I have been serving as a yearlong assistant/intern at the newly established Sarasota Art Museum (SAM), focused on learning the day to day operations of a contemporary art museum. While I am primarily interested in curatorial and directors work, the ability to have a well-rounded internship, where all factors of the museum are taken into account, is quite exciting. Working across departments at SAM keeps me open to the many possibilities a museum has for future careers. My internship at SAM has been the perfect occasion to explore such opportunities. Along with this, it is my belief that no museum department should work in a vacuum. Learning about the operations of each department has not only helped to strengthened my team working skills but establish a good rapport with coworkers, creating better end products in my inter-departmental work.
In addition to curatorial experience, I have also cultivated my skills in working with K-12 visitors at SAM and thoroughly enjoyed the fun insights they have brought to learning about art. My experiences with museum education have given me better insight into how different departments collaborate to contribute to the museum’s development. I am excited about the opportunity to cultivate the next generation museum-goers in my future.
Ultimately, I plan to gain more museum experience, apply to graduate school, and become a museum curator/administrator at a premier institution in the United States (or maybe even abroad!) Through my future as a student, I can bring a commitment to museum work, substantial training in art history, and my pre-existing achievements at SAM to an environment where I can learn more about museums and the wonderful role they play in educating the public on art and art history.
The essay question for this round of the Art History/Museum Studies scholarship is: Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker often painted similar subjects including these watercolors of Washingtonian Palms in California. Compare and contrast these two paintings “Washingtonian Palms” 1970 © Eileen Monaghan Whitaker 22×30 inches Watercolor and “Washingtonian Palms” 1968 © Frederic Whitaker 22×27.5 inches Watercolor
ESSAY BY NOAH GANUN COX
Though Frederic and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker were fond of painting similar subject matter in their home state of California, the two would employ vastly different techniques in their work as watercolorists. In their depictions of Washingtonian Palms, the diverse but equally impressive skills of each artist can be seen in their use of form. Mrs. Whitaker has paid attention to detail and multiplicity, emphasizing the palms as subject matter while Mr. Whitaker has chosen to emphasize an open, painterly landscape that stresses the palms as motifs in a wider, contextualized natural world.
In Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s Washingtonian Palms (1970), two visibly massive palm trees command the presence of a relatively monochromatic painting. These towering and exquisitely executed palms are prime examples of Heinrich Wölfflin’s formal characteristics of the closed, linear, and multiple. Whitaker’s choice of depicting such massive palm trees up close, extending them beyond the borders of the painting, gives the sense of how substantial they are. The darker, monochromatic cast of the painting gives the impression of shade thrown by the trees, further alluding to the closed and harmonious setting of the image. Despite the often disobedient nature of watercolor, Mrs. Whitaker has masterfully executed thin, crisp strokes of darker tones which highlight the roots, bootstraps, and fronds of the two prominent trees. Though the painting is composed of lower saturated grays, blues, and tans, the contrasting darker valued lines of the foregrounded palms separate the trees from the blended palette of the middle and background. In such marked detail from the rest of the painting, the palms stand as two pieces of a greater whole, each palm being its own microcosm of the painting, serving as the main sources of visual splendor to the eyes. Mrs. Whitaker has chosen to stylistically separate her palms from that of her husband’s through some of the traditional formal elements of western art: a closed, intimate setting; spatial separation through dark, contrasting lines; and separated units which compose their own visual imagery in the image overall. Her palms lead the viewer to experience intimate connections with the natural world.
While similar in subject matter, Frederic Whitaker’s Washingtonian Palms (1968), is quite the opposite stylistically, rendering a considerably different viewing experience. Unlike his wife’s formal use of the closed, linear, and multiple, Mr. Whitaker depicts his palms in an open, painterly, and unified manner. While certainly serving as the focal point of the work, Whitaker’s palms are placed further into the middle and background. The palms are open and well-lit from the right, giving the viewer the feeling of a larger open space than that seen in the painting. The sheer, vertical height of these trees is conveyed through the subtle presence of three individuals in blue, green and red, further providing a sense of detached, open viewing for a distanced viewer. In addition to this, their presence excites the eyes, adding colorful vibrancy to the otherwise balanced palette. The palms and neighboring organic matter are thus, set off through their broad swaths of highly saturated color. In a painterly manner similar to Cézanne’s depictions of provincial France, Mr. Whitaker has composed his palms with these swaths of bright earth tones and dark shaded tones. Though lines remain present to emphasize sparse, woody branches, attention is withdrawn from edges and outlines of shape, placed instead in color and light to define the units of the painting. With this divergence from sharply outlined forms, the image begins to blend together as one, becoming what Wölfflin would define as a “unified image.” No individual element truly stands out in the painting, each tree, rock, and bush must be viewed in relation to one another as a united landscape. Unlike his wife’s later work, Mr. Whitaker has chosen to depict his palms in a pastoral landscape that emphasizes openness of space, painterly technique, and unified composure.
Though these Washingtonian Palm paintings bear similarity in subject matter, Frederick and Eileen Whitaker have each created masterfully beautiful works of art, composed of strikingly different formal qualities from the other. While the watercolors are emblematic of contrasting terms (closed/open, linear/painterly, multiple/unified), the two pair immensely well with one another as they provide different viewpoints on these majestic palm trees. Each painting gives a different perspective on the palms, one from up close, the other afar, while still conveying their presence and beauty. Such comparatively wonderful yet wholly individual paintings show how both Frederick and Eileen Whitaker were masters in their art as watercolorists.