MA in Art History

Our MA curriculum prioritizes traditional research methods, while also focusing on new media skills and hands-on learning via internships, curating coursework, and museum studies.

Irena Dragaš Jansen, 2024

Irena Dragaš Jansen

How did you decide to pursue an MA in Art History?

In all my work and volunteer activities, art and literature accompany me. They played an important and integral role in my NGO work with post-war reconciliation efforts in the Balkans, social-economic work in Africa, and community engagement in the DMV area. Even personally, art plays an important and crucial role in navigating personal challenges, particularly cross-cultural living, and healing from personal traumas. It is, therefore, no surprise that I realized how art history synthesizes into one field of study my various interests: literature, visual arts, history, writing, critical thinking, spirituality, teaching, and helping my community. It was one of those a-ha moments in life when wonder and surprise harmonized to reveal that the answer had existed all along and it was hidden in plain sight -- in art history studies.

I decided to dip my feet into the art history field by earning a Certificate in World Art History from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in 2020. That is where I first encountered some wonderful George Mason University art history professors. Studying art history at GMU was the next logical step. Even though I already have a BA in English and literature, I decided to start by getting another undergraduate degree, this time in art history. Not only did I know that I needed to learn more before applying to a graduate art history program, but I was also eager to learn more and start from the beginning. I graduated with my second BA, this time in Art History, in December of 2022. As a part of the BAM program, I began my MA studies that same Fall 2022 semester. I am scheduled to graduate with my MA degree in December 2024.

What have you learned in an art history class that really surprised you/changed your perspective?

Every class seems to illuminate a new fascinating aspect of art history. From the very beginning I realized how art history is the best way to learn history. I am originally from Croatia, and I thought I knew and understood the history of my country and Europe quite well. However, learning about art history has given me a whole new understanding of my country and my continent. Art history has also helped me learn more about my new homeland – the United States of America. In my opinion, studying art history is the best way to understand history.

Studying art history has also inspired my own creative efforts. Learning about the artists and their process has prompted me to embrace my own artistic journey.

What is the value of studying art history?

Art history is one of those extraordinary fields of study that can stand on its own because it is so complex and integrated, but it also artfully blends with other practical efforts which strive to understand, enrich, and heal our various human experiences. The skills gained through study of art history are applicable to almost any field, but also offer a plethora of art history specific job opportunities.

How do you plan to use your art history degree and what are your long-term career goals?

My art history studies have given me valuable knowledge, experience, perspective, and insight. I am eager to use all I have learned at GMU in my continued work to serve my community. I continue to be a part of trauma healing and reconciliation efforts in the Balkans. I am currently working on several writing and creative projects, to include interactive art installations here in the States. I have created and done multiple webinars to audiences across the United States, on the topics of art and art history. All my projects connect art and art history to its relevance for our life and human experiences.

It is my desire to connect my cross-cultural and war experience with my love of art and education in art history – and continue producing programs which help my community. These will include what I have done thus far: writing, webinars, interactive art installations, small-group work, creating programs for NGOs, trauma healing materials, and volunteering at local and international community outreaches.

I am also open to other avenues, which I might not have considered before. My exposure to various practical applications of my art history degree and knowledge through my education here at GMU has been pivotal and inspirational. The class in which we got to curate an exhibition has been one of my favorites. The practical and hands-on experience has been transformative. I plan to pursue the ways in which I can use my curatorial skills – both in my own creative projects and as a part of collectives or institutions.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

Be open to the ways in which the study of art history will surprise you! Take a variety of classes, not just the ones that are in your field or comfort zone. Meet with the professors and learn from their experience and expertise. All the art history professors at GMU have been wonderful and each one has a unique approach to art history and art history careers.

Embrace every class and every assignment as an opportunity to connect it to your personal story and creative or professional efforts. I wrote the following essay for a class, but it also gave me an opportunity to process a very personal war story.

Art, War, and Ukraine: How the Power of Art At Last Gave My War Trauma a Voice

I also created a project for one of the classes which I plan to further develop after graduation. The class and the project provided valuable insight into researching material culture and creating art history projects for the general public using digital media.