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Liberal Studies faculty Dr. Margaret J. Schmitz on art history

Painting of broken shards of brown, blue and white pottery arrayed on a white sheet

Untitled, courtesy of Dr. Margaret Schmitz

Dr. Margaret J. Schmitz, an Assistant Professor at MIAD who teaches primarily art history, published a new article titled “Indigenous Temporal Enmeshment in Akwesasne Notes” in Panorama, a digital art history journal. In addition to her scholarly writing, Dr. Schmitz is a passionate instructor who believes in the power of history to shape the future and in the responsibility that creatives hold to use that power.

Students enrolled in one of Dr. Schmitz’s classes can expect to weave their creative practices into their research projects and contextualize art history in their own work. “I am not interested in history because I’m in love with a past time. I’m interested in my discipline because I believe time isn’t linear in the way we’ve been commonly taught through colonizer knowledge systems,” says Dr. Schmitz. “Artists and designers are historical actors in and on the world. Therefore, designers and artists have the capacity to future or defuture, and to world or unworld. That is a big responsibility that our students must recognize.”

Dr. Schmitz’s newly-published article explores temporality and design history in Akwesasne Notes, a newspaper published by the Mohawk Nation. Her primary area of study and instruction is informed by two main methodologies: Marxist critical theory and decolonial theory. “Marxist theory, as a mode of interpreting visual culture through the lens of economy, has deeply impacted how I deconstruct and understand the power dynamics of a given period,” she explains. “It is actually one reason why I’ve adopted design history… as central to my research and teaching. Marxist theory demonstrates that since everything is touched by the economy, all media deserves to be subjected to deep critical analysis.”

Human figure with head wrapped in gauze wearing an ornate gold and white brocade coat

Untitled, courtesy of Dr. Margaret Schmitz

Researching the article was a hands-on, thoughtful process for Dr. Schmitz based in archival analysis and important conversations: “…as a non-native working on this topic, I felt it was super important to talk with Native cultural knowledge keepers and understand their intentions when designing Notes’s posters,” she says. Much of this oral history is in danger of being lost, as many of the original editors and designers of the publication have passed away since the 1970s.

As an instructor, Dr. Schmitz appreciates MIAD’s “openness to new teaching strategies and subjects,” but also credits her students with allowing her to show up as a learner in class. Breaking down the rigid hierarchy of teacher vs. student by recognizing the validity of each student’s individual experience and knowledge is central to her teaching philosophy. She offers two pieces of advice to students: first, be patient. Creative “practice” is a practice, and conceptual frameworks most often come from varied experiences. Second, don’t be afraid to say yes to opportunities and to develop into an interdisciplinary and multi-hyphenate person. Dr. Schmitz herself has worked in fields from museum educator to art insurance investigator to collections manager, and has found opportunity and excitement in the variety.

Read other work by Dr. Schmitz and learn more about MIAD’s Liberal Studies Department!

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