Paris, France, University of Paris 7-Denis Diderot
When I was deciding on which American Studies students to interview, I was intrigued about Julie because we both had interests in art in common. Her decision to come to Smith is particularly interesting. Julie is an aspiring artist, and in the art world (the center of which she considers New York City), she says, one needs to speak English. Through her Smith scholarship she came here thinking she would only take art and English classes, but had to take an American studies class—much to her initial dislike." However, she realized that she could not live in the United States without understanding American culture, and has since embraced her American Society and Culture class.
Though Julie's spoken English is already excellent, she says that with some exceptions, France's teaching of English is poor. She started studying English when she was eleven and continued until she was eighteen, however, she says that she was only excellent in reading and writing. Here at Smith, not only is constantly speaking in class discussions helpful, but also more like"collaboration" between professors and students. It is more "respectful" because the professors do not lecture down to students but have discussions with them. However, her reply to my question about what surprised her during her time abroad in the US made me laugh—she said she was surprised that everyone does all his or her homework at Smith.
The artists Julie likes and dislikes made me better understand her artistic perspective. The first artist Julie loved after she broke her own leg dancing was Frida Kahlo. Her injury at the time was a similar catalyst to starting painting as the latter's due to an extensively debilitating accident. The parallel spoke to Julie's young poetic sensibilities (she waves that teenage sentiment away slightly embarrassedly). I asked about Frida Kahlo because she painted numerous self-portraits that represented her deep emotions rather than her physical self; originally working with paint, the media Julie uses today is a mix of manual photography that she digitally edits, and her point of view as an artist focuses on the body, nature, and religion. On nudity, Julie says its traditional representation is not shocking, so she is interested in the more shocking non-traditional portrayals.
The second artist I asked Julie about was Claude Monet: she hates his art, which is interesting because it is safe to say Monet's work is popular. However, when Julie looks at Monet's work she "do[es] not feel anything." From my query about Mark Rothko, I could tell that she appreciates the artists whose art more actively engages its viewers. As for Salvador Dali, she says you look at his work and it is like reading a narrative (she tells me she used to want to become a writer). Clearly, emotions and ambiguity play a strong role influencing and provoking Julie's perspective of art.
Julie's explanation of her perception of Picasso in France revealed more about her decision to come to the US. She respects and really likes Picasso's large range of work, but she says Picasso is too present in France. Right now, she says all France's art galleries are very conservative: they only showcase famous and established artists' work. If an artist is not well known yet, he or she has to win international art prizes for galleries to begin to consider showing his or her work. However, in the US, artists can more easily show galleries their portfolios for consideration. For Julie's capstone project at Smith, she plans on showing an exhibition of her work inspired by the American poet Stan Rice's work. According to Julie, Stan Rice's poems have a strange atmosphere that intrigues her. Stan Rice was Ayn Rand's husband, who said to her, stop your work and become a writer. It seems like a fitting project for an aspiring artist who has come all the way from Paris to Smith in hopes of following her passion.
After she finishes her program at Smith I asked Julie what her future plans are. She hopes to become an artist, but for now, she is under contract to her university. If she does not do research, she would probably teach. She might also go to Brazil with her fiancé who has a job opportunity there. I also asked whether there was any moment at Smith Julie would not forget, and she said it was Convocation. I think for many, Convocation is one of the most significant experiences for Smith students because it fosters a feeling of belonging, empowerment, and unity together. However, in conclusion, I know that I cannot wait to see Julie's exhibition—if there is not a place for her as an artist in France, I hope she finds a niche in the US or elsewhere because her perspective is fascinating, and her intrepid spirit is inspiring.
By Julie Ramage '14, Global STRIDE Fellow
As part of the Global STRIDE fellowship, the fellows interviewed and profiled international students in the college's graduate program in American Studies, to help familiarize them with people who have made cultural transitions.