Evan Harris

Art History: Jessy Ren

When Jessy Ren arrived at Wake Forest, she was able to explore different classes and subjects. Sophomore year, Ren took a history of photography class with Dr. Morna O’Neill and soon after declared an art history major.

“I learned to see how different cultures produce art from a socio-political perspective, and it’s such an interesting reflection on society throughout the world,” Ren said. “I feel like people have been creating art since the birth of humankind, and it’s so interesting to see how it’s changed throughout human history.” 

Ren attended an international school in Shanghai, China, where she grew up. Her counselor encouraged her to consider applying to Wake Forest after seeing her affinity for social sciences.

“She pulled me out of class one day and she told me that Wake Forest was the perfect school for me,” Ren said. “I visited the school and fell in love with the campus.”

She says the smaller size of Wake Forest really appealed to her as well as its academic merits. Ren points out how being an international student in liberal arts, not STEM or business, is not common because traveling to America for an education is seen as an investment, so most students pursue higher paying fields of study.

 Ren originally intended to major in political science but was soon drawn to the arts. Her grandfather was a small art collector, so she always felt interested in art. 

Ren said her professors, namely O’Neill and Dr. John Curley, had been a driving force behind her love for art history because of the way they engaged with their students. Ren had done research with Curley, and he eventually became one of her honors thesis advisors along with Dr. Nikki Moore.

“It was definitely a transition from political science to art history because each study has a different method of research, and they really helped me navigate that change,” Ren said. 

Ren has applied to several graduate schools and has been accepted at Boston University and University of Chicago. Ideally, she hopes to attend Columbia or New York University to continue studying art history in graduate school. 

“It would be great to live in New York because it’s the center of art,” Ren said.

This semester, Ren was able to go on the art management trip to New York City where she and 14 other students had the opportunity to talk to professionals in every sector of the art world, including auction houses, galleries, conservationists and artists.  

Art has played an important role in Ren’s life as it has helped her connect to her culture, but she also notes the larger role it plays in our world.

“Art is important to use because it’s humanity’s creative outlet,” she said. 

As her final semester at Wake Forest comes to an end, Ren has been working on her honors thesis about Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing’s “Book from the Sky.” Ren became very enthusiastic as she described how the artist crafted thousands of fake Chinese letters for his work. Her passion for art shines through as she speaks.

“I feel like Xu Bing was trying to find a balance between Western contemporary while also keeping its Chinese-ness in it; this work is a perfect example of that,” she said.

When asked if Ren relates to Xu’s conflict of Chinese tradition and the Western world, she opened up about how COVID-19 impacted her college experience as she has not been able to go home for a long time. She felt that the lack of a Chinese population in Winston-Salem has made her feel isolated from her home. 

“These past two years, I’ve been trying to find more ways to reconnect with my culture, and studying Chinese art has facilitated that,” Ren said.

Ren attributes her passion for art to her grandfather. She jokes that the farthest her parent’s artistic abilities go are her father’s doodles. However, her grandfather on her mother’s side collects Chinese antiques and has influenced her love of art. 

After graduate school, Ren dreams of being in academia long term and teaching new generations of art history students about her field of study.

“The art community at Wake Forest is probably the closest-knit community on campus as we all know each other,” Ren said. “I would highly advise students to take advantage of being a part of a community as special as this one.”

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