2011 A&S Dean's Medalist in the Arts
Steffani Bennett, Dean's Medalist in the Arts for the College of Arts and Sciences, spent her childhood traveling the world as the daughter of State Department employees. At the UW she majored in art history, with a minor in Japanese language. She will spend the coming year at the Inter-University Program in Beijing before embarking on graduate studies in art history, in preparation for a career as a curator. Here Bennett answers a few questions for Perspectives:
Why did you decide to come to the UW?
When I was living abroad as a child, my family would return to the U.S. every couple of years. We always returned to Seattle. Because my parents completed their Master’s Degrees at the University of Washington, we often visited the campus, too. Seattle was the only place in the U.S. that felt like home to me and I already felt familiar with the University of Washington when I applied. The UW’s strong East Asia programs were, of course, also excellent matches for my interests.
How do you think being raised outside the U.S. influenced you academically?
Throughout my formative years I attended international schools. The academic environment of these schools, especially in China and Taiwan, was particularly rigorous and instilled in me a strong sense of academic discipline and focus. From a young age I was introduced to foreign cultures and languages, experiences that were central to the later development of my interest in East Asian art.
Why did you choose to major in art history?
As a child living in China and Taiwan, I was surrounded by Chinese civilization and history. My earliest awareness of this was through the medium of visual art. What I find particularly compelling about the field of art history is the way in which a civilization’s artistic traditions can act as a mirror of that civilization’s cultural and historical development. I believe that the visual arts are among the greatest expressions of the human condition, and as such offer us valuable insight into the development of humanity.
"I believe that the visual arts are among the greatest expressions
of the human condition, and as such offer us valuable insight into
the development of humanity."
Did you do any study abroad while at the UW? If so, how did this experience compare to living abroad as the daughter of State Department employees?
During the academic year 2008-2009 I studied abroad in Kyoto, Japan. Though I had never lived in Japan before, my life experience as a child in other parts of Asia helped me to feel very comfortable in this new environment. This year abroad did, however, expose me to a greater degree of cultural immersion than I had often experienced as a State Department child. Having grown up in U.S. embassy communities, I was accustomed to such things as American style housing and entertainment (T.V. programming, etc.). In Japan I did not have these kinds of amenities or a sense of belonging to an Expat community, factors that ultimately allowed me to experience Japanese culture more directly and in greater depth. In the fall of 2010 I also studied abroad in London for one month. This art-focused program helped to familiarize me with the British artistic tradition and thus broadened my art historical perspective.
From the nomination letters, it sounds like you are hoping to pursue a curatorial career. What appeals to you about this?
Some of my fondest childhood memories are the countless visits I made with my mother to art museums. This love of art museums has never left me. I am interested in pursuing a curatorial career because I feel that the responsibility of displaying and introducing art to the public is very important in educating people about their own cultural identity, as well as that of other peoples. As a curator I hope that my study of East Asian art, particularly the artistic relationship between Japan and China, can help people to better understand the syncretic nature of this complex artistic relationship.
Why are you spending the coming year in Beijing, before heading for graduate school?
At UW I have focused on Japanese language, including one year of language study abroad in Japan. Because my interest in art history is very much rooted in the artistic interaction between Japan and China, however, it is very important to me that I maintain my Chinese language skills. I have therefore decided to spend one year at the Inter-University Program in Beijing to solidify my Chinese before I begin graduate school.
Return to Table of Contents, June 2011 issue