Noa Kasman '12 Explores Approaches to the Use of Color in Painting

By Charlotte Kugler '14

Noa Kasman '12 loves painting. During her time at Mount Holyoke, Kasman--an anthropology major with a minor in art history--has talked and thought a great deal about color, technique, and process. Her advisor, anthropology professor Andrew Lass, suggested last year that she consider researching the use of color as a summer project.

Kasman, who graduates this month, designed a project that took her to the Art Students’ League, an art school in New York City. Combining her desire to improve her art skills with an anthropological focus, she conducted ethnographic research among the students there.

“My ethnographic work was largely focused in studio classrooms. I took three classes, two that were focused on figure painting and one that was focused on abstract painting,” she says. Those courses challenged her initial idea of what painting involves. Every professor and student, she noticed, seemed to have a very specific idea about how to set up palettes, mix the paint, and apply it.

“I think I expected a more coherent, linear method,” she says. “I found instead that the path towards skill building and creating was much less formulaic than I anticipated.”

Kasman was not alone in this discovery. She says students in her classes often discussed their views on the use of color and how to achieve color accuracy when painting. Although she found these different perspectives a little confusing at first, she quickly realized she did not believe in painting by following specific instructions from “how-to” books that students sometimes brought to class. 

Kasman greatly appreciated the opportunity to paint alongside other students while working on her research.

“Taking a varied selection of classes allowed me to delve into the particular notions of color that our teachers presented,” she says. When not in class, she interviewed former students, current students, and teachers at the League about color, process, and art education.

“The most interesting thing I discovered was that art and art making are fundamentally social processes,” Kasman says. “As a student, choosing one approach towards painting over another necessarily involves discussions with other students about value and art history.

“What’s more, schools are places where students learn how to paint and construct their own ideas about what constitutes art and defines an artist.”

As a combination of both her major and her minor at MHC, Kasman felt her summer research project engaged her main interests and allowed her to explore them in greater depth. She looks forward to continuing this exploration after college.