Professor Profile: Margo Thompson

Margo Thompson speaks softly, walks confidently, and extrudes a subtle confidence that appears at once to indicate an academic stability and comfort rarely found in the academic halls of UVM. Margo Thompson is an art history professor here at UVM, although she has resided and studied in several places, Vermont has become home to one of UVM’s most knowledgeable contemporary art historians.

Thompson has taught modern art history in the Art Department since 2001. After receiving her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1998 she spent a year teaching at Bucknell University. This was followed by visiting positions at Notre Dame and Illinois State University. Currently, professor Thompson teaches courses in 19th and 20th century art as well as contemporary issues.

Thompson’s main area of interest revolves largely around feminism, and gender, in art; an area of art that has seen many transformations within the past twenty years, particularly feminist art. The world of feminist art, according to Thompson, has seen a change from the grassroots approach of the 1970s, to a more theoretical approach found more often in academic circles. Thompson has extensively studied Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, a seminal piece of feminist art, which is now on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum.

The art world has seen a fundamental transformation into the modern privatized system we see today, that much we can be sure of. However, barring any contextual criticism, Thompson expressed her dissatisfaction with the contemporary art system found in U.S. museums, citing high prices and a general shift away from their original mission as mainstays of their current problem. Within any given art form/culture, there exists a number of possible (perhaps probable?) changes that can define that period for art historians like Thompson.

Within Margo Thompson’s lifetime, she has seen several significant changes within both the practiced and academic art worlds. Many of these changes have occurred while she has been teaching at UVM.

However, these are not the only changes Thompson has seen during her tenure at UVM. There has been a larger trend within her own field toward viewing anything aesthetically produced in a given culture as art, known as Visual Culture. Visual Culture has created a dichotomy within the art history world that pits traditional art historians against the less rigorously defined Visual Cultural and its practitioners.

Thompson is able to identify and analyze those changes and evolutions in contemporary art, and those changes within the culture and politics of UVM. Thompson was keen to note a lack of support for art at UVM, with special consideration paid to the location and prominence of many art venues at UVM. Even Williams Hall, where Thompson’s office is located, is in dire need of renovation and repair.

Able to reference everything from the documentation of the hardcore gay leather scene present in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography to the relatively tame Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, Thompson is certainly an outstanding member of the art history department at UVM. Margo Thompson continues to teach art history at UVM.