Individual Statements

Letter from CAA President and Harvard African Art Professor Suzanne Preston Blier


Dean Douglas Dempster
Dean of the College of Fine Arts
University of Texas, Austin

March 18, 2018

Dear Dean Dempster,

It was a great honor to recently lecture at the University of Texas, Austin, presenting both my book project on Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon and a digital web project I helped create called Worldmap that was featured shortly afterwards in the Daily Texan. I bring this up in light of UT’s decision to close the Fine Arts Library. Both libraries and digital humanities engagements can and must exist together.

The critical importance of libraries for art historical scholarship is clear in my work on Picasso’s famous painting, now in press. I am an Africanist by training and would never have ventured into the Picasso arena without happening upon a book on African masks in my university library. Within seconds I realized that this German language book was a key source of imagery for Picasso’s famous 1907 canvas. Without seeing the actual volume, I never would have known this. And, it was not just the text and the richly colored plates that had been inspiration to him, but also the thin tracing paper (calc) protective sheets with annotated line drawings covering each mask image. A book scan could not convey the importance of this element. Over the months and years ahead I discovered three other books whose illustrations had inspired Picasso’s Les Demoiselles, as well as later art works in his career. For Picasso, who spent a lifetime looking at and evaluating art, books mattered. For Picasso, in some ways the most revolutionary artist of the 20th century, it was illustrated books that asparked his own revolution in both imagery and ideas. In short, it was books that made Picasso “Picasso.” This is no less true for me and other art historians. For faculty and students to be able to access books in our university libraries is critical to the work we do. New fields, including Design, are vital too, but we must not foreclose one avenue of engagement (creative enlightenment through historic textual sources) with another. Design, technology and the life of the mind are equally dependent on the kind of illustrations and ideas that only books provide.

I write to you from Dallas, where I am on a year-long sabbatical Fellowship at the Edith O’Donnell Institute for the History of Art at the University of Texas Dallas. U.T. Dallas has just acquired a major art history library in France for its new art history graduate program and the launch of an “Athenaeum” around this same library plus several new art collections that will be arriving here shortly. I say this not to revive old rivalries between Dallas and Austin, but simply to insist that books are critical to any such art history program. The University of Texas at Austin has long been viewed as one of great university art history programs (part of an elite pantheon of these programs). I know personally several of the brilliant faculty members who are there. I hope that you will reconsider the decision to close the UT Austin Fine Arts library.

I also write as the current President of CAA (the College Art Association), the 107 year old institution that long has supported the professional interests of art historians, artists, museum curators, art critics and others in the field (including designers). Our organization has championed Fair Use in publishing in the fields of studio art and art history. Without books, Fair Use would not be possible because it is from books that images to publish this way are gleaned.

Equally importantly, Art and Art History programs around the country are under threat.The arts bring billions of dollars to local communities and cities – whether  Paris, Berlin, New York, LA, or the various cities in Texas. What University of Texas Austin does with its Fine Arts Library will leave a mark. I hope that you will find a way to keep ready access to its books for Austin’s remarkable faculty and students.


Suzanne Preston Blier

Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies

CAA President letter to Dempster


3 thoughts on “Letter from CAA President and Harvard African Art Professor Suzanne Preston Blier”

  1. I wholly agree with you as a current PhD student at the EODIAH Institute at UT Dallas and a graduate of UT Austin where I had a work-study job in the Art Library and spend many hours not only working there but learning the collection and using it to assist other students and learn art history first hand. The books in the library were extremely helpful to me not only in my studies but also as a guide for purchases for my own art history book collection and my painting career. I would ask the University to reconsider dismantling the art library.
    Without the resources of the UT Austin library I would have found it more difficult to go to earn a BFA, UT Austin, MFA U Mass Amherst, MA Archaeology Leiden U, and now as a current Art History PhD at UT Dallas.


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