Katie Fox

Art History: Maddy Barnick

When coming into college, many students are told to pick a profitable major or one that will set them up to easily find a job upon graduation. Sometimes this works out, the match is compatible and the DegreeWorks “What If” section goes untouched.

But sometimes, a lucky student gets to tell their parents during a lull in a winter break dinner conversation that they want to pursue art history. During her time at Wake Forest, Maddy Barnick was very lucky in that regard. 

Barnick came into college with the presumption that she was going to go into finance and study in the business school. She would just have to get through the first two years of divisionals. It was her First Year Seminar, “Discovering the Avant-Garde” with Professor Leigh Ann Hallburg, that made Barnick realize there was more to art than what she had previously believed.

“I had no exposure [to art before this],” said the senior from Stratford, CT. “That was the first time that I ever sat in a class and learned about art and its history and certain styles of painting. I never really understood that art had meaning outside of just being an image. So that was the first time that I started to see how dynamic art actually was.” 

Barnick would soon start to work at the Hanes Art Gallery and realized that the worlds of business and art do in fact intertwine. The original plan was to continue with business and complete an art history minor, but after enrolling in the Acquavella Business class, which explored the roles that galleries, sellers and artists all play in the global art market, she realized she was going to make the switch.

“I was actually terrified to tell my parents that I wanted to do art history,” Barnick said. “I wasn’t nervous to tell my parents that I didn’t want to do business because there are so many other majors. I was really nervous to have that conversation about what art history would be for me, and how that would be beneficial.”

Barnick realized that she would have to show her parents that there are opportunities post-graduation in order to receive support, so she made it her mission to show that she not only would belong in the art world but that she would thrive in it.

During her junior year, Barnick and 12 other art-loving students were entrusted with $100,000 of university money to purchase as many works as they wished for the Student Union’s Collection of Contemporary Art. This prestigious group is selected every four years and normally would let the students travel to New York City to roam galleries and private collections. Due to COVID-19, the group had to conduct all their research virtually, but Barnick said it was still an amazing experience. 

“Once I switched, my parents were like ‘we don’t want you doing anything else,’” Barnick said. “My parents are so behind me now being an art history major. They love it. My sister is in the business school and they get so excited of course but they get so excited about the things that I’m doing because I actually have passion for it.”

After graduation, Barnick will be moving to London to obtain her Master’s degree in Art Business from Sotheby’s through the University of Manchester. She hopes to work in a gallery for a few years and then return to the university system to help inspire other students to pursue their art dreams. 

“If you find something you like and if you have passion for it,” Barnick said. “Just go with it. It is scary, especially at a place like Wake Forest, where everyone is so driven and so competitive and so ready to take on the hardest task. But the art department is like a family here and no one is going to let anyone else fail. I’ve been so fortunate for these people.”

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