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Department of History of Art and Architecture Graduation Party

The Department of History of Art and Architecture was very proud to honor our graduating senior History of Art and Architecture majors and minors at an online reception held Wednesday, May 6. 

At this reception each year, the recipients of the Cooley Prize are announced. This prize was originally established in 1920 at the George Peabody College for Teachers as an endowed medal fund. Reinaugurated in 1996, it is presented to the graduating senior(s) majoring in the history of art with the highest grade point average in the history of art. 

This year, it was our great pleasure to award the Cooley Prize to two students who have both completed their History of Art majors with perfect 4.0 grade point averages, and who were also tied with exceptionally high Cumulative grade point averages. Each of these students received an award of $200 and their names will be added to our departmental plaque that lists past winners (since 1996) and is displayed in the lower foyer of the Cohen building.

Congratulations to Lauren Appel and Dean DiBello !!

 Lauren Appel  DeanDiBello

In addition, we awarded four Honorable Mentions, and each of these students received an award of $100. 

In alphabetical order:

Deniz Akdogan 

Virginia Ingram

Ali Wilt

Michelle Zhu


Congratulations to the Class of 2020!


“Art always says ‘and yet’ to Life.”   

By Georg Lukacs

Part of Chair Kevin Murphy's congratulatory speech to graduates:

"This is the point in our annual program when I take the opportunity to thank the parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family and friends for their support of our graduating seniors.  This year, words truly fail me.  How can I fully express our appreciation to you for all you have done to make it possible for these outstanding people to cross the finish line in the most inopportune circumstances imaginable?  I can hardly express just how much we appreciate all that you have done for these young men and women.

We always knew these were a stellar bunch of students.  They were selected from thousands of applicants for admission and they then brilliantly navigated their paths through Vanderbilt (happily finding their ways to Cohen Hall).  Our admiration for our graduates, and for all of our students, has expanded exponentially this semester.  Speaking from my own experience teaching a writing seminar on Impressionism, I can tell you that I have been nothing less than awe-struck by the students.  In the space of a few days, many returned from spring break, left campus, then came back again to move out of their dorms.  Still, when classes resumed online they were unfailingly positive, diligent, thoughtful, and generous.  We knew that Vanderbilt students were smart and motivated—that was never in doubt—but I don’t think we realized just how resilient and resourceful they are.  Those qualities have carried them through this very difficult final stretch, and they guarantee great achievements later in life.

As art historians we are of course reflected on the relevance of studying art in a time like this.  My colleague in the art department, Maria Magdalena Compos-Pons, recently observed at her department’s final celebration that at a moment when we are all relying on science to deliver us from the scourge of the Corona virus, we have to remember that art and science are always allies. Indeed, both disciplines are based on creativity, exploration, innovation, and an insatiable desire to find a better way—to solve a medical mystery, to give material form to an idea.  Over the past weeks, I have been reminded many times of a passage I underlined in a book I read back in college, the Theory of the Novel, by the Hungarian born Marxist critic Georg Lukacs. There he wrote just at the beginning of World War I, “Art always says ‘and yet’ to Life.”  Writes Lukacs, “The creation of forms is the most profound confirmation of the existence of a dissonance.”  In other words, art has an awesome responsibility to illustrate a better alternative to the way things are.  As historians of art, we unravel the work of artists and architects who express our highest ideals, inspire our most profound thinking, and stir our emotions, at the same time that they probe and question how and why our world is the way it is, and ask why it can’t be different.

We have had the great opportunity to watch these students grow and change over the course of several years; they have provoked us to grow and change as a department as well.  Just yesterday, the College faculty approved the change of our department’s name to the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, to reflect better the scope of our interests—and our students’ interests.  In addition, a new 4+1 Master’s program in Architecture and the Built Environment was also approved. It joins our existing 4+1 in the History of Art.  We are pleased that graduating senior Tita Peterson will be embarking on an MA in the department next year, and we are ready to welcome other graduating seniors who would like to use this time of disruption to delve deeper in the History of Art and Architecture and prepare for eventual work in the fields of art, architecture, design and more, or for further graduate study."


Chair Kevin Murphy also acknowledged the retirement of our esteemed colleague Prof. Vivien Green Fryd:

"Vivien has been a presence at Vanderbilt for more than three decades, teaching generations of students about the history of American art and culture, and more recently, expanding her field of research and teaching to Germany, and particularly to the city of Berlin.  Vivien has been a powerful advocate for women’s history and feminist art locally and nationally.  She is the author of many scholarly articles and several books, most recently Against Our Will: Sexual Trauma in American Art since 1970 which received international attention when it was published by Penn State Press last year.  Well before I came to Vanderbilt and had the pleasure of getting to know Vivien, I had met her through her fundamental and unsurpassed study of the iconography of the US Capitol—a curiously understudied monument in American art.  Just recently, Vivien was the recipient of a mentoring award from the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center at Vanderbilt.

Personally, I am relieved that Vivien has not packed up her U-haul and headed to Florida. Lucky for us, she has settled into her beloved home near Vanderbilt’s campus where—once the current crisis has passed—she will again be enjoying all the diversions Nashville offers.  And we won’t be deprived of her voice in art history either: Vivien is at work on monograph about her uncle, the German émigré photograph Henry Riis and we look forward to her sharing her insights with us.  Vivien: to adapt the title of one of your popular courses, you are an icon and a monument at Vanderbilt.  We look forward to feting you in person—from a safe distance—in better times."

Vivien Fryd