Subscribe to Art + Ideas:

How has the field of art history changed in the last 30 years? This episode centers on this question through a discussion with Mary Miller, the recently appointed director of the Getty Research Institute. She describes her academic career studying the art of the ancient Maya at a time when this field didn’t fit comfortably into most art history departments, delves into the evolving role of the Getty Research Institute’s library, archives and scholarly programs, and closes the discussion with her thoughts on what lies ahead for the GRI.

Portrait of Mary Miller

Mary Miller was appointed as the director of the GRI in 2018.


JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
MARY MILLER: One of the great virtues of studying the ancient world across all of its iterations, across the planet, is to realize that we, all humans on the planet today, have a stake in it.That is to say, we’re all part of the pastness of this earth.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Mary Miller, the new director of the Getty Research Institute.
Mary Miller is the Director of the Getty Research Institute, a vast research library and scholarly community at the Getty dedicated to the generation of new knowledge about the visual arts. Mary took up her position here in January 2019.
A renowned scholar on the art of the Maya and other Ancient New World cultures, Mary took her PhD from Yale, where she held numerous positions, including dean of Yale College, Sterling Professor of the History of Art, and Senior Director of Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.
I recently say down with Mary to discuss her career as an art historian as well as her vision for the GRI and its role in the changing field of art history.
Welcome, Mary, and thanks for giving us your time on this podcast.
MARY MILLER: Thanks, Jim. Happy to be here.
CUNO: Well, it’s great to have you. Let’s start with some big questions. You took your PhD from Yale in 1981. How has the study of the history of art changed since then?
MILLER: Wow, it’s such a great question, Jim, because you think of how we did the research for art history for our dissertations even as undergraduates, back in the seventies and eighties. And for me, it almost always started by putting on good running shoes and heading out to the many libraries at Yale where books in my field were stored. Some were at Divinity, some were in the Latin American travel collection, some were in the anthropology library, and some were in the main library and some were in the art library.
So it was really all about finding the pictures and the books and being able to spread them all out on a big table, so that you could see everything at once.
CUNO: Yeah.
MILLER: My goodness, how things have changed today. So the study of the history of art has changed perhaps more radically than, say, the study of English literature in the same time period, because we now can so quickly put our resources together. And even if they’re not scanned and digitized, we rarely take all the volumes out of the library and cart them off to one location; but rather, we take the phone images, we upload them onto our desktops, and we can conduct the thinking part of the research perhaps almost anywhere.
CUNO: Yeah. Well, I want to stop you just for a second and ask you how it was that you got first interested in the art of the ancient Maya.
MILLER: We could even go back to the fact that I grew up on a small working farm, where periodically, we turned up interesting things from the earth that were the blades and weaponry that had been used by Iroquois, probably Onondaga hunters, long ago.
CUNO: This is in Upstate New York.
MILLER: This is in Upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes. But I developed a real interest in classical archaeology as a high school kid. When I went to college, in the very first semester at Princeton, I took a course in the art and archaeology department with T. Leslie Shear, Cities and Sanctuaries of the Ancient World. The thrill of being able to learn about the past and feel as though it was connected to the objects that were in the Princeton Art Museum, this was also so completely exciting to me that the very next semester, I signed up to take a class in Old World archaeology, which was being taught in the anthropology department.
This was a course in the history of lithics. Essentially, what that means is how humans take a rock and turn it into a tool. Pretty tedious, if you ask me.
So at the end of that course, my professor decided that he would take a few weeks and tell us about the work he had done on the Harvard project in Guatemala. This was Mark Leone. And he was an anthropologist and an archaeologist, but not of the ancient Maya. This stuff was so exciting to me. It was such a change from looking at the history of the development of the lithics in Europe. And I felt as though all of the excitement I had had about the Classical world was now washing over me again. So I went to see the professor and I said, “How can I study more of this stuff here at Princeton?”
And he said, “Well, honestly, you can’t really. There is, however, someone over at the art gallery. And I don’t really recommend this to you, because this man does not have an advanced degree and he’s a collector, you know. I don’t really recommend that you go take his class.” Now I have to say, if you think about saying something like this to a nineteen-year-old student, it’s a kind of catnip, right? Surely, you should go at least find out about them.
And at the very first class that Gillett Griffin taught, in a course that was in the art and archaeology department, across the table, he threw a big piece of black felt. And out of his coat, he pulled different objects. And out of a picnic basket, he unfolded, from the red-checked napkins, objects that were 3,000 years old. And he handed these objects around to the dozen students sitting around the table. And he said, “What do you think? Handle them. Take them in your hands.”
CUNO: These were from the collection of the museum? Or they were from his collection? From both.
MILLER: It was a mix. All of his objects ultimately became part of the university museum collection. And I remember thinking how amazing it was that you could learn by holding onto a cup. That in fact, your first reaction to it, when you might ask someone, well, what should you do with that object, is that you bring it toward your lips. And then you realize, the way it is shaped, that it is so rounded, that in fact, if you tried to drink out of it, you’d be dribbling all over the front of you. You learn things by handling objects that changed your view of how they acted in the world.
I won’t say that I knew in that moment, but over time, I had the sense that this was a field of so much material, with so few hard questions that had been thrown at the material. And it was also an exciting time, in terms of Mesoamerican, Pre-Hispanic, Pre-Columbian—any of the titles we might wanna put on this stuff. It was such an exciting time, in terms of the studies, because just in that same moment, there were scholars—at the Harvard Peabody Museum and in Russia and at Yale—who were deciphering Maya hieroglyphics. And for the first time, the meaning and even the sounds of the words that the Maya wrote, say from 700 AD, could be heard, could be read, could be spoken anew. Now, by the time I had taken Gillett Griffin’s course, I had actually taken all the additional coursework there was to take in Pre-Hispanic art.
CUNO: Which is to say there was one course.
MILLER: There was one course.
CUNO: Yeah.
MILLER: I had taken it my sophomore year. I’d always thought that I would study history and that I would grow up to be a lawyer in the State of New York. I had no sense of an academic pathway in my life. But over the summer before my junior year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I knew that I felt this incredible passion about these things I had studied early in my sophomore year. I had started studying Spanish, so that I might be able to go there and be able to speak with people. I decided that although I didn’t actually know any art historians and I had taken, oh, maybe three classes in art history by this time, I decided to change my major and to study art and archaeology at Princeton. It was such a great major.
CUNO: Yeah. Now, if you had decided that you wanted to go to Harvard, for example, to study which was now your burning interest, you couldn’t have done so in the history of art and architecture department; you would’ve had to have done so in the anthropology or archaeology department, I guess. What was it like at Yale?

MILLER: Well, I didn’t go there directly. When I graduated, I had one of those wonderful baby Fulbrights. Someone took a real chance on me and said, “We’re going to fund you to go to Mexico for a year.” So that was a transformative experience. And in fact, almost all of my mental formation about what studying Pre-Columbian art would be like was changed by being in the field, by going to the museums of Mexico, by visiting the sites of archaeologists, by doing site survey and spending a lot of time collecting pot shards.
CUNO: Was there an institution there with which you worked?
MILLER: Yes. My fellowship was administered by the National Institute of the Anthropology ad History. But in particular, the person for whom I wrote periodic reports was this amazing linguist, Don Alfredo Barrera Vásquez, who was compiling and working then on a what is considered the most important dictionary of Yucatec Mayan language.
A incredible scholarly resource. He was himself an extraordinary person, who had grown up speaking Maya as much as Spanish, and who would come into the office with his ocelot on a leash. It was something to behold.
CUNO: Yeah. Sounds like Paris in the thirties. So you were there for a year, working in the field and working in the classroom, working in the library. And then you go to Yale.
MILLER: Yes. And I had very seriously thought about getting a PhD in anthropology, because there were three serious and important game-changing scholars of the Pre-Hispanic past at Yale: George Kubler, in the history of art department; Michael Coe, in anthropology; and Floyd Lounsbury, in anthropology. He was one of the great code breakers of Maya hieroglyphic writing.
One of the things I had discovered in the field, however, is that anthropological archaeology of the New World was not, in that moment, very interested in cities and elites, but rather much more in settlement patterns, in ancient diet—questions that are all now extremely interesting to me; but I have to say, as that kid out in the field, I really wanted to be thinking about, but what is the meaning of these objects that you find? If you hold them, what do they tell you? And I was not as keenly attuned to the scientific questions that I now find so incredibly stimulating.
CUNO: Now how did you get to Yale?
MILLER: Well, I have to say that I had the good fortune to spend several months traveling and researching and exploring the Maya sites across Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and investing the kind of time in getting to know, all kinds of archaeological sites that were exceptionally remote, due, in many cases, to the absolute kindness of archaeologists, who let me visit their sites, showed me what they were doing.
This was true of Mexicans, Americans, Guatemalans, the British in Belize, and Honduranians and Americans and the French in Honduras. Everywhere, I have to say, I was treated with incredible generosity and openness. I also had the good fortune, though, to be traveling with, for several months, with a woman who was working on her dissertation at the University of Texas. And so she knew a lot more about the big picture of Maya art. Because remember, I’d had that one course as an undergraduate.
And Virginia Miller and I were able to get to all these remote places. And by the coincidence of our last names, we often were able to say we were family. And it made it safe for us to actually be in exceptionally remote and what might have been places I would not have gone by myself. So it was just an amazing year of exploration.
But I also came away from it thinking, I really want to think about what it would mean to get an art history PhD rather than an archaeology PhD. And so on my way back from Mexico, I spent time at the University of Texas, I spent time talking to people about the program at UCLA. My good friend and colleague at the University of Texas, then teaching and later my colleague and friend, Richard Townsend, told me how difficult it had been to get a PhD at Harvard, and all the obstacles that had been there for him, because it was not a field in which art history was really present in the department.
I ended up back on the East Coast and I visited the program at Columbia, visited all the people, the relevant individuals at Yale, and I knew that Yale was really the place I wanted to be.
CUNO: Were there other students like yourself at Yale, studying the art history of the ancient and the New Worlds?
MILLER: Yes. Yes. There were. There were other colleagues a year or two ahead of me. And then there was one student who came after me. So I was not quite George Kubler’s last student. I took classes with Michael Coe and with Floyd Lounsbury.
Man, those long afternoons with Floyd Lounsbury, working decoding, as well as deciphering, the Dresden Codex really were long, challenging days, in which one was tallying in long lines of arithmetic, Venus cycles, on one page of the notebook. And on the next, trying to figure out what the objects that were being held by different gods in their depictions were.
CUNO: So tell us about George Kubler. Famous, famous name.
MILLER: Yes. George Kubler, a famous, famous name. And I will say that George and Mike and Floyd were all incredibly generous mentors to me. And there was a project that George was at work on, that I suddenly found myself back in the museum, the Yale University Art Gallery collection. Pretty modest at the time. But George was working on a comprehensive catalog of it.
And so the graduate seminar that he taught took us into that collection, where we handled, tested, thought about objects, deeply researched them, and published our work. And this was a seminar that he had taught off and on for many years, and the book finally came out in 1986.
CUNO: Yeah. Had he already published The Shape of Time?
MILLER: So Kubler had published The Shape of Time long before. It had come out, I think, in 1962. And it was not a book he really cared to talk about very much. He’d been very ill when he wrote The Shape of Time. And it is a book that is so full of incredibly deep and important, and occasionally contradictory, insights into how time and the works of art made in it are and are not essentially like a river.
You feel as though you are there with Heraclitus, thinking. Each time you dip into it, it is different. And the same thing is true for that book.
CUNO: Yeah. I think the first time I read it was like 1978 or ’79 or so, and it had such an aura about it as a book of greatness, and a book of extreme importance; that everyone needed to read it then. Is it still the case now, that it’s read that way or it has that presence that it had when we were students?
MILLER: You know, Jim, I can’t speak for other people; but hardly a year has passed when I have not taught the book. I’m sorry that you can’t see my copy of it here, because it has completely fallen apart. It’s held together by two large binder clips, along with the various Yale College Blue Books, in which I have written all my notes, and interlinked it back into the book. I never reread the book and not find new profundities in it. But Kubler never taught it.
CUNO: Oh, really?
MILLER: Perhaps he taught it in the sixties, but I don’t know. But he certainly did not teach it when I was taking classes with him.
CUNO: I ask that because I’ve been thinking about these generations of great scholars who had a certain moment, a certain hold on a generation of students. And the generation of students, the next generation has moved beyond or moved to different quarters, are reading different things, different artists, or authors.
MILLER: I think a lot of people still read Shape of Time; I think a lot of people still teach it. In part, it’s a wonderful book to teach because it is so full of ideas. And because it has although the occasional reference to Pre-Hispanic art, it’s not based in it. It is really Kubler’s great theoretical contribution. So at the same time that I was working with George Kubler, Michael Coe was— I think if we were to imagine him as a kind of twenty-first century entrepreneur, you’d say he’s a disrupter.
Because Coe was one of the great revisionists. And he was right about most everything. He had an incredible eye. And he would spend time looking at things. And he was able to decipher patterns. And he was able to make sense out of works of art that had been impenetrable. And he also saw things that were unpleasant, or perhaps not spoken of in polite company. So when Mike was looking at a series of Maya pots, he suddenly must’ve jumped up from his table, where he would have had the pictures spread out in front of him, and said, “My goodness, those are all images of enemas.” Mike, if you’re listening to this, I’m sorry; I’m not doing a very good job of impersonating you.
But so he saw things that other people didn’t see. And then he would turn to the ethnohistory to say, “Well, what do we know about enemas?” And it turns out the enema is a Native American practice that may have been all the rage in seventeenth century France, but it came from the New World, this concept of a medical treatment of this sort.
So Mike as the disruptor. And Floyd as the most patient and careful of scholars. Floyd Lounsbury was deciphering one syllable at a time, of the Mayan script. And Floyd was just a genius at the painstaking work that needed to be done to crack the phonetic syllabary of Mayan writing. The modern decipherment, has been built on the work he was doing.
Floyd, on the written page, his excitement at working through texts with me— I fear I didn’t appreciate it enough. His excitement about seeing how we could take a syllable that had been undeciphered, by seeing a new example of that syllable, a new context, where it appeared with already deciphered elements.
Suddenly a new whole word could be read. And it was really through Floyd and through some other scholars, as well, that I became a great consumer of what I would call Mayan syntax. Not just decipherment of words, but realizing that this was a whole language, with word order that also would help shape how we could see Maya art.
CUNO: Yeah. So this is how you learned and developed your specialty in ancient Maya. And this was the late seventies, early eighties, so this was thirty or forty years ago, almost. How would you teach it today? Or how would it different than the way you learned it thirty, forty years ago?
MILLER: I suppose I learned to study Maya art from three great minds. And when I teach it I try to think that, and I believe that, the best work in the study of Maya art is not what derives exclusively from art historical practice and method. Nor what we might say is anthropological. That is, say, the decipherment of a writing system.Nor from the kind of deeply ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and then engaged with archaeological practice by seeing that things had been made by real people, whose practices at the time of the Spanish invasion and ongoing to the present, could all be used to leverage meaning for the past as, I would say, would be how I would characterize Coe.
All three of these methods belong in the classroom. And I think this is true for the most successful work on the ancient Maya, whether it’s practiced by anthropologists or art historians; that our best work draws very closely on the work of the other.
CUNO: Yeah. So this is a fascinating account of your individual intellectual formation. Let’s get to the Getty itself. You’ve come to be director of the Getty Research Institute. And it was founded in 1985, some thirty-three years ago. How has it changed over the years, both as an institution and as a scholarly community? If you can pronounce upon that, having just arrived here a few months ago.
MILLER: I think that once the Getty Research Institute was here, up at the Getty Center, that it began to take the shape of the GRI that we know today. It began with fellowships and targeting a few of the big research questions that people were having in the eighties, ahead of— I guess I’m showing how long I’ve been in this field when I say it doesn’t seem to me so awfully long ago, but before the advent of the internet, that we did our art historical work so differently.
But in the founding years of the Getty, the commitment that was made to creating standardized language that could be used in order to do things like catalog slides now turns out to be absolutely central to the authentication of documents and standard language that’s used around the world. So the GRI, in its early years, as I understand it—and I have to say, I’m the newbie in the room—was committed to bringing scholars; building a library, a library that was designed really to focus on the history of European art; and to be able to begin to set standards that would help move the field of art history forward.
What I would say is that by the time the Getty Research Institute was here at the Getty Center, things had already changed. And in part, one of the things I see as so exciting and central to the work of the GRI has been the acquisition of archives. And whether this was the plan from the beginning, I can’t say. But I would say that in acquiring the archives of dealers, of art historians, of artists, of institutions that no longer collection their archives, this is really one of the greatest repositories in the world for the study of what I’m going to call more broadly, visual culture, and art history, and to understand the history of this field.
CUNO: Well, for those of our listeners who aren’t familiar with this term archives, or at least the way that we use it, we should let them know that we think of this as the kind raw material from which works of interpretive history are written.
MILLER: Yes. And let me just say that the archives of the GRI have a very interesting role within the larger Getty Center and the various institutions here. The museum, the Getty Museum, generally does not collect prints, for example, and the GRI does collect prints. The goal was never to build a great Old Master collection of prints, but rather to think of the printed material—whether the book or the print that has been made, often, after a painting—is in its own right a subject of really important research.
And so this distinguishes our print collection, our photograph collection, and our archival collection. But when we collect archives of prints and drawings and photographs, what we also hope to receive is all the ancillary material—the notes, the documents. We seek to acquire these works from makers and practitioners or collectors or dealers, so that we begin to build a richer set of documentation around the visual material itself.
CUNO: How does someone, a scholar, have access to this material?
MILLER: Let’s say you’re looking for pictures of Kandahar or you’re looking for a particular photographer. You can find these through our catalog search. And in many cases, we already have digitized the material.
But as an open source institution, we find all the time that people are publishing and promulgating our works because they can; they can find them. But they may also decide that they really need to come and look at the original object itself. They want to sit there with a magnifying glass. They want to sit in the presence of the original thing.
And so they make an appointment and they come see the works in person, as well. I think one of the things we’ve discovered is that the more we digitize, the more people want to come see the original object.
CUNO: I’ve had the great experience of stumbling across the archives of teachers of mine. So Ernst Kitzinger, a great Byzantinist, Medievalist; or Oleg Grabar, a great Arabist, Islamicist, whom I heard lecture many, many times—we have their papers here. So we’ve got the materials from which they wrote the books that we read.
And this idea that you’re there at the very kind of beginning of a project, where you can see the scholar identify something that triggers another thought, which is put together in a string of thoughts that comes up with a theme of some kind—to see that develop in an intimate way, of teachers that you held in such esteem, is a humbling experience.
MILLER: I couldn’t agree more. And our curators are incredibly excited about sharing the materials. And if they see that one of our fellows is coming in, has called materials, they’ll often pull out a lot more things, thinking—I don’t wanna make it sound like Amazon, you ordered this, but we think you might also like to have a look at this.
And so their knowledge and commitment to the depth and range of the collection means that they are constantly learning things from the scholars. And the scholars are also thinking, wow, that’s not what I’m working on today; but let me tell you, I saw some related unpublished material in a small museum in fill-in-the-blanks that might not have their things online. And it begins to build this rich network of possibilities.
Visitors come from all over the world to use these collections. And these then result in wonderful exhibitions at the Getty Research Institute, as well. I think we see this right now with our current exhibition, MONUMENTality. You know, it’s a funny kind of museum, in that sense.
CUNO: Yeah. A sort of museum of the mind. You mentioned the word monumentality, and we recognize that now here at the Getty, because that’s the theme of the scholars here. And so the scholars that are in residence over the course of this year are all dealing in some way with the theme of monumentality. Tell us about that. Not just about that particular theme, but about the whole way of organizing a scholarly community of people around themes.
MILLER: The theme is an interesting concept. The idea of having themes was surely conceived in order to build a greater scholarly community. I think the word on the street has always been that a fellowship at the Getty is not just to be at a hotel for scholars, but rather to be at a place where new knowledge is advanced; not just in your own work, but perhaps along multiple dimensions.
A well-chosen theme results in the presence of scholars who engage with one another in a both serious and light-hearted way. And there are more opportunities, informal and formal, to continue that discussion. And so ideally, at the end of a year, a thematic year, we not only have individuals who find that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, but in fact, as they go back to their respective institutions, they tend to take the experience of this year with them.
So that actually, taking ideas that have gestated here, and then pushing them out into the academy, I think that’s one of the things that we do with the theme year that would be impossible to do if we did not intentionally seek to advance knowledge along certain dimensions.
CUNO: Tell us about next year’s theme.
MILLER: Next year’s theme will be art and ecology. And it’s going to be an exciting year. For one, I think it seems both timely, in that there is a way in which it’s hard not to be concerned about what I sometimes think is weather chaos that is being experienced across the planet. But how to think about everything that ranges from materiality to how works engage with the actual made and natural environment.
CUNO: Yeah. So the GRI builds great repositories of books and archival materials to promote and advance the study of the history of art. And then it gathers together scholars from around the world in residence here, who have some relationship with each other by virtue of the themes that have attracted them to the scholars’ years. The most recent one is an initiative about the cultural legacy of the artists of African and African diasporic heritage. What can you tell us about this new initiative?
MILLER: One of the things that’s so exciting about the new African American initiative is that it helps amplify the bandwidth of the GRI, which from its formation, has really been focused on first, the history of European art; and second, a kind of American art of the sort that you and I might’ve had a class in many, many years ago.
I’m sure there’s a formal story of how this initiative came into place. But I think I might say that some of its roots lie in Pacific Standard Time, that came to life in 2011, when the art of California became more visible, legible, was really surfaced, through that project.
And by the exhibition Now Dig This, and its curator Kellie Jones, professor of art history at Columbia University, which really helped put African American artists of Southern California on the map.
CUNO: And we should mention for our podcast listeners that Pacific Standard Time, which everyone now recognizes as an exhibition program, really began in its first years as a research project sponsored by the Getty Research Institute.
MILLER: Yes. To challenge the narrative of New York as the only generator of artistic production that would be transformative in the twentieth century. And then Now Dig This, perhaps one of the most exciting pieces of that first round of Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, would bring so many African American artists to widespread attention.
I think it’s both as a result and a kind of harvest, and even fallout, in all kinds of good ways, of that exhibition, that it seemed obvious that one of the areas where the Getty Research Institute could make a real difference would be in supporting work on African American artists, specifically here at the GRI. So the initiative has allowed us to amplify, build, develop collections, archival collections, library collections, and then to bring scholars here for whom African American art is the focus.
CUNO: Another initiative that we’ve ben talking about, scholarly initiative, has to do with the ancient worlds. And we’re calling it Ancient Worlds Now, and we’re exploring the possibilities of implementing in the future. Tell us about that, from your perspective of the GRI, and how it is that it might, with the other programs at the Getty, really address some needs and interests in the field.
MILLER: There is a kind of urgency to keeping alive the study of the past, just in this moment in the twenty-first century. There’s so many other issues that seem so critical: how you save the planet, or how you solve a particular political dilemma. And I think one of the great virtues of studying the ancient world across all of its iterations, across the planet, is to realize that we, all humans on the planet today, have a stake in it.That is to say, we’re all part of the pastness of this earth.
And in every possible way, in every possible place, interesting thinking and alternative narratives of the world were being generated. There was a diversity of thought 5,000 years ago, 3,000 years ago—among a very small number of people scattered across the planet—but there was a diversity of thought that was profound.
There’s the kind of vulnerability of the past that has never seemed greater, in part because of global climate change, and the pressure to somehow work faster and do more things in a very presentist kind of world, where we’re all trying to think about tomorrow.
So one of the great things about studying the past is what we can learn about humanity, how we can see their creativity, how it helps give us opportunities to see success, and what success and failure looked like in the past, and thus to be active in its protection. And it’s protection of simply even its knowledge and the dissemination of its knowledge.
And to generate new knowledge. I would say that when I speak personally about studying the Maya, it’s that there’s still so much profound new knowledge that we are going to gain from the ancient Maya, just by continuing to look closely and read closely. There is so much new material that has been discovered archaeologically in recent years.
All of which is to say that we need to protect, preserve, and study. So the study part, that’s where the GRI comes in and where I also hope that as we develop new scholarly themes, we’ll be able to find questions that we can pose to scholars that will draw those who are interested in the ancient world, from Peru to Classical antiquity, to bring them here to help us learn about that past and to generate the new knowledge.
CUNO: Well, that’s a good place to wrap up, because we began talking about your particular intellectual formation and your attraction to this ancient world, and now we’re talking about how we might go forward with that. But if I began with a question about how the study of the history of art has changed since you took your PhD in 1981, let me close with an even larger, perhaps, question, which is to say, what is the future for the study of the history of art and archaeology? And is it a responsibility of the Getty Research Institute to address this in some fundamental way?
MILLER: Once upon a time, art history was the preserve of the elite; those, ideally, who had access to works of art, and if you didn’t have access to works of art, access to a library filled with images of works of art. Well, that game is long behind us. Because in fact, it is the visual that I believe is the future of the twenty-first century. And I think that the future of art history is no less than being at the center of humanistic inquiry altogether.
I think this is the century where because of technology, text is no longer king. But it will be the way that we nevertheless make sense and articulate the image that’s in front of us. I think there’s no institution that is better poised to play a role in this than the Getty Research Institute, because of its commitment not just to digitizing the things in our archives, but in fact, to every out-of-copyright book that we own. To disseminating these works by making sure that they are open access and by promoting the resources that we have to, first, those who are in Southern California and who can come to our research institute themselves— And let me just say if you haven’t felt invited, please, by means of this podcast, please come. Be invited. Get a reader card. Come use our resources.
And yet in a larger way, by everything that we will disseminate. How we take the materials here, how we leverage them. And you, too, can download that raw data, and you too can turn it into something very interesting.
CUNO: Well, Mary, it’s been great talking with you this afternoon on this podcast. I have the great pleasure of talking with you often about such matters, but our podcast listeners don’t often have that experience. And we’re grateful for you coming in this afternoon and talking on this podcast.
MILLER: Thank you, Jim. It’s been fun to be here.
CUNO: Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. It is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. For photos, transcripts, and other resources, visit Thanks for listening.

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
MARY MILLER: One of the great virtues of studying the ancient world across all of its iterations, ...

Music Credits
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824

Logo for Art Plus Ideas podcast
This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
See all posts in this series »