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Researcher of the Month
Art History & Studio Art majors, Class of 2011
URECA Summer Program
Research Mentor: Dr. Shoki Goodarzi, Art
Completing a senior honors thesis can at times seem like a monumental task! But for Nicole Zinerco, a Studio Art & Art History double major (class of 2012) who is tackling the weighty subject of “The Depiction of Battle Scenes on Monumental Architecture and the Cultural Identity of Ancient Greece” for her honors thesis project in Art History, she has three things on her side to ease the burden, including: 1) the positive support of her mentor, Prof. Shoki Goodarzi; 2) a deep passion and enthusiasm for the subject she’s studying; and 3) the opportunity through URECA's summer program to dedicate considerable time and effort to the project!
After initially becoming interested in the topic of Greek battle scenes, such as those depicted in theAltar of Zeus-Pergamon, while taking Prof. Goodarzi’s course on Greek Art and Architecture, Nicole further developed her interest in the project while taking an “Independent Reading and Research “ (Art Research 487) course last spring with her mentor; and following that, applied and received the URECA summer program award (Summer 2011) to support 10 weeks of intensive summer research on the project. Nicole will be completing her honors thesis next fall, and following graduation next May plans to pursue graduate studies in Art History.
Nicole will present her research findings and analysis at URECA’s campus wide poster symposium next April. She has previously participated in URECA’s annual undergraduate art exhibition (2010, 2011), a show featuring undergraduate artists who are nominated by Studio faculty for the exhibition; Nicole will also be participating in the Senior art show next spring (2011). A graduate of Seaford High School in Seaford (Nassau County), Long Island, Nicole has while at Stony Brook served as an ACH Undergraduate College Fellow; worked as a reception/peer advisor for the Academic and Pre-Professional Advising office; and worked as a receptionist for the Alumni Relations Office. She is Vice President of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (2009-present), and has published work in “FOCUS On Women On Diversity” , a feminist literary magazine. In addition to long-held pastimes of drawing and painting, Nicole’s hobbies include SCUBA diving, and cooking. Below are excerpts of Nicole's interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your research project.
Nicole: I’m researching representations of battle on monumental architecture in Ancient Greece. My project covers the Transitional period in Ancient Greece (480-450 BC) through the Hellenistic period (323-146 BC). Military pursuits were an important factor in Greek culture, and the battle scenes are very reflective of important historical events and conditions of the Greek world at the time. As in most art, there’s a story behind it. So for instance, how the Greeks portray their enemies in the battle scenes — as equals, with integrity and character — tells us a lot. It shows us a lot about Greek cultural values and perspectives through art. When I first started taking Art History classes (originally just to complete my studio major requirements), I discovered that I really loved it! You learn so much about so many other things. I don’t think you could have an understanding, or make sense of the art, if you didn’t know what was going on at the time, or had studied the cultural context. I find it so fascinating.
How did you settle on your topic? Did it evolve out of a paper you wrote for a class?
It did actually. I took a class on Greek architecture with my sponsor, Prof. Goodarzi. Our final essay was on Greek cultural identity through art. As I was writing it, I found that there was so much I wanted to say about it. And there was so much more I wanted to learn about it. After that, I went to Prof. Goodarzi and asked to do an independent study with her. We talked about the possibility of doing a senior honors thesis, and she told me that if I had a whole year to work on it (rather than just one semester), it could be an amazing project. When we were thinking about various topics and I was going back and forth, I kept going back to my original project on The Depiction of Battle Scenes on Monumental Architecture and the Cultural Identity of Ancient Greece because it was so inclusive of different things I wanted to talk about. I just really liked writing about it. I felt like it was something I could do a good job on, and I enjoyed digging through the sources and doing the research. It was really interesting. In the independent research project paper I wrote in the spring, I thought I would talk more about real propaganda. But as it turned out, I didn’t talk about that as much as I thought. I’d like to get back to that, and really expand upon that for my senior thesis.
Tell me about your mentor.
Prof. Goodarzi is a great teacher...so knowledgeable. I’ve taken two of her classes. I took her ancient Mesopotamian art class and her ancient Greek class. She’s really just a wonderful professor. The Mesopotamian Art course I took was my first ancient art/ancient cultures class. It was really interesting, and really inspired me... Prof. Goodarzi is very approachable too. She was supportive of the project from the beginning. When I first went to her, she gave me positive feedback about my writing and said, “Of course I want to work with you.” I don’t know what I would have done if she’d said “No, I’m busy.” I would have been discouraged. But it’s really worked out. I knew, when I was thinking about doing some kind of research, that I really liked her class. I knew I really wanted to work on the project with her.
So do you have advice for other students?
Don’t be afraid to ask a professor to work with you, especially if you’re in a class with a professor you like. Just talk to them! They might have a suggestion for you, or help you along with it. Don’t feel like you don’t have enough experience. I never presented research, or had done research until this. But it’s a great experience.
Is there a favorite thing you’ve found or discovered in your research so far?
The “Altar of Zeus” from Pergamon. …It’s so interesting, so amazing. The friezes around it are incredibly beautiful. The figures in the frieze of the temple look like sculptures in the round because of the deep undercuts in the marble. They almost spill out onto the steps...and everything is dramatic. It’s just incredibly beautiful. . . . I talk a lot about it, actually, in my writing. There’s so much to say. There's also a free-standing group of sculptures—showing one particular scene of a man and his wife, a Gaul who is committing suicide. He’s killed his wife because he doesn’t want her to become a slave, and he doesn’t want to surrender…it’s so dramatic. There’s so much thought and passion and humanism put into depicting these people.
I know you’ll be presenting your research project in the spring at URECA’s campus
wide poster symposium. But you have also participated in URECA, before, as a studio
Yes, the URECA show. I did that the past two years. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s nice to be recognized by professors, and to be chosen to be in it. I like seeing the variety of work too. I loved some of the sculpture pieces— the plates and cups that were on display this year...I like the videos too. There was a lot more interactive work this year, I thought.
Do you find it helpful to have your background as a studio artist in analyzing art
and doing art history?
It’s more the other way around. When you’re doing studio art, it’s much more helpful to have an art history background. But it works both ways. I remember when I was taking the ancient Mesopotamian art class, I was also taking a ceramics studio class at the time. And it was interesting to think about the similarities and differences in the way ceramics was done back then and the way they do it now.
When you first started college, did you have an idea you would be so much involved
in the Art Department?
I knew I wanted to be a Studio Art major. In my high school, I took art classes and some of the people I was close to went to art school. But the reason I chose Stony Brook rather than an art school, was because at the time, I was thinking about double majoring in marine science. I had taken so many marine biology classes, and science classes in high school, and I loved it. I was fascinated by the beauty of marine life. I still find it fascinating, particularly coral reefs and the biodiversity of ocean life. I ended up deciding not to major in it here…But in thinking about people I knew from school, and the choices I made, I have to say that I really value Stony Brook for its diversity and education. You meet so many different people. There are so many interdisciplinary opportunities. I’m glad that I made a choice to go to a big school where I had all these opportunities. And it was here that I found a true passion for Art History and the study of ancient cultures.
What are your long-term plans?
I want to pursue graduate studies in art history. I’m taking the GRE in a couple of weeks. And I plan to start looking into different programs…very soon!
What do you think you learn from doing a senior thesis?
It really is a good experience. Whatever I go on to, I’m going to need the skills I’m developing of writing, research, and critical thinking. I think it will help me even when I apply to graduate programs to show that “yes, I can do this, I am prepared.”
Do you enjoy writing?
I do! Sometimes I’ll write and write… When I started writing for the independent study project, I found I would just go off on certain topics.
What’s the hardest part of the project?
Narrowing it down. Sometimes, it is difficult for me to keep focused. I get so fascinated by other things and I like learning about them. So when I’m writing about them, I want to explore other ideas, and say everything! I have to keep narrowing it down, keep revising, and stay focused. That can be difficult. Even when I think about future grad studies, I’m not quite sure what area I want to specialize in within Art History. There are so many different periods of time that I find fascinating. I love working on Greek art. But I’ve also taken a class in northern Renaissance work and that was fascinating too. I could see pursuing that too. There are so many different things I want to learn more about!