Meet New NYFA Board Member: Nell Painter

Meet New NYFA Board Member: Nell Painter

“Try not to compare your work and trajectory with those of other artists. Everyone follows an individual path laid out by personal preferences and life’s fortunes.” 

We’re proud to introduce one of our newest board members, artist and leading historian of the United States, Nell Painter. Our interview with Painter is part of our ongoing series of blog posts dedicated to the exceptional arts advocates who operate behind-the-scenes here at NYFA.

Nell Irvin Painter is the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University. A prolific and award-winning scholar, her most recent books are The History of White People (W. W. Norton, 2010), Creating Black Americans (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Southern History Across the Color Line (University of North Carolina Press, 2002). A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Painter has previously received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Antiquarian Society. She has a doctorate degree in history from Harvard University and honorary doctorates from Wesleyan University, Dartmouth University, SUNY New Paltz, and Yale University. Painter is a past president of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association. As a public intellectual, Painter is frequently called upon for lectures and interviews on television and film.


NYFA: What made you decide to join the NYFA board?

Nell Painter: The first thing was my admiration for [NYFA Board Chair] Judy Brodsky as an artist and champion of the arts. I share her enthusiasm for printmaking; this spring I am artist in residence at the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, realizing one of my long-held ambitions. Judy is an extraordinary artist, mover, and shaker who inspires me—among the masses of her admirers. Working with her is just a tremendous honor.

The next thing was NYFA’s longstanding role as a supporter of artists and the arts. I would like to contribute to this role in three ways: through my own art; through my network of artists, especially in Newark and northern New Jersey; and through my hybrid background as an author as well as painter. Speaking selfishly, I look forward to meeting artists and supporters beyond my own bailiwick of the visual arts. I have a lot to learn with NYFA’s help.

NYFA: Can you tell us about a project that you’re currently working on?

NP: I’m still working at the Brodsky Center, which brings me tremendous satisfaction. For the first time in my life, I made a woodblock print, whose photograph I’m sending you as it appears in the Brodsky studio, as it hasn’t been editioned yet. This spring I have shown digital collages in several group shows in New Jersey in a series called Moi that I haven’t yet exhausted.


NYFA: What advice do you have for emerging artists? 

NP: Work steadily and show your work as often as you possibly can. You can turn your studio into a pop-up gallery—I’ve done this with artist colleagues—and invite your public in.

Try not to compare your work and your trajectory with those of other artists. Everyone follows an individual path laid out by personal preferences and life’s fortunes. You don’t have to make large work because large work is popular; make work on the scale that feels right to you and that you can afford to make—and that you can move around.

Don’t see yourself through other people’s eyes. This is hard, but it’s essential for mental health, especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re a person of color. Especially if you’re a woman of color.

See NYFA’s full Board of Directors and Leadership Council here

– Interview conducted by Lauren Hilger, Executive Assistant

Images, from top: Nell Painter, Photo credit: Johanna Morrissey; Artwork detail by Nell Painter, Photo courtesy: Nell Painter; Woodblock print by Nell Painter, Photo courtesy: Nell Painter 

Amy Aronoff
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