Art History Honors, Elizabeth Kajs ‘13
“This project pushed me out of the realm of student and into the role of art historian.” Elizabeth Kajs graduated in 2013 with honors in art history. Her thesis was on Käthe Kollwitz.
2013 graduate Elizabeth Kajs describes her in-depth honors thesis. Students interested in pursuing honors work should feel encouraged to ask any art history faculty member for more information.
“Imagining the New Female Citizen: Private into Public in Käthe Kollwitz’s Work”. Abstract:
Käthe Kollwitz is unquestionably one of the most significant artists of the modern period. As seen through her 275 prints, Kollwitz’s visual language is both poignant and universal, allowing for lasting international acclaim. Traditionally, her work has been overshadowed by readings of her subject matter as a nearly fanatical obsession with the tragedies of life. Indeed, her persona has become entangled in a myth of self-torment and oppression. This thesis argues for the existence of a polarity within her work which has rarely been explored before. This polarity is revealed in several of her mostly overlooked works, such as her early self-portraits and her public posters, as well as in one of her most celebrated series, Der Krieg. I evaluate Kollwitz’s work beyond the simple answer of human emotions, in the process revealing a complexity beyond just tragedy. Kollwitz was always a political artist and her work is saturated with radical ideas concerning women, the role of the family, and the public sphere. By carefully examining the subject matter, medium, historical circumstances and life of this dynamic artist, one can trace her struggle for legitimacy both as an artist and as a female citizen beginning with her early self-portraits. These three chapters analyze Kollwitz’s attempts to legitimate the authority of the female citizen beyond just the domestic, private sphere. It is important to carefully examine the breadth of Kollwitz’s work because her ideas serve as a predecessor to the concepts often linked with modern feminist thought. Kollwitz once stated that she wanted “to cultivate the seed that was placed [within her] until the last small twig had grown.” Her artworks spanning four decades, have continued to serve as the seeds for other’s ideas and implanted within many viewers ideas for a better future.
Kajs describes her experience in this Honors Thesis Testimonial:
The opportunity to write a thesis as an undergraduate is an incredibly unique opportunity and one that not many universities offer. I viewed the Art History honors project as being the perfect test to see if I was right to continue studying Art History in graduate school. The honors project is unique in the fact that it is completely student driven. I was the one who had to come up with the topic, argument, research and deadlines. Although I had an advisor who provided a lot of wonderful and constructive feedback and advice, this was ultimately my project. This project pushed me out of the realm of student and into the role of art historian. This transition was important to me as a graduating senior because it allowed me to apply my degree to the real world. Throughout my time at Southwestern I learned how to think outside of the box, question, research and write. All of these skills came into practice while conducting my honors thesis, and as such, I felt that the project was the perfect culmination of everything that I had learned throughout my four years. Most importantly, my honors project challenged me to move beyond my comfort zone. The thesis taught me to think as a scholar and as a result I feel very prepared to move on to graduate school this fall. This project was by far one of the best experiences that I have had at Southwestern University. It was a great opportunity to work one-on-one with the faculty, explore resources beyond the university and ultimately see how professionals approach problems and research in the world of academia. I would highly encourage all Art History students to consider writing an honors thesis. Although it is an enormous undertaking that requires a lot of time and energy, the end result and experience of the honors project is well worth the challenge.