Professor of the Week: Art history professor Pauline Ota


Art history professor Pauline Ota.

This week, The DePauw Features had the opportunity to sit down with art history professor Pauline Ota and learn more about her life inside and outside of the university. 

The DePauw (TDP): What made you decide to go into the arts?

Pauline Ota (PO): I was an undergraduate and my favorite courses were my art history courses. I went to UC, the University of California system, and a smaller school called UC Irvine. 


TDP: Did you grow up in California?

PO: Yes. I was born in Los Angeles. Immigrant parents. With my generation, if you were a daughter as opposed to a son, it was a little bit tougher to get to go to school where you could come home at night. I was lucky enough that my parents let me go far enough away. It was probably about an hour away. It was more of a case of, you know, you want your daughters to be educated, but you don’t trust the outside world. Especially if you’re an immigrant. All you see on TV are the “Animal House” movies and you get nervous. That’s not the reality, but you get nervous.


TDP: Being in California, was there anything specific that drew you to the arts?

PO: The Los Angeles area is a huge mecca for contemporary art. But I think a lot of people didn’t know that UC Irvine… has a very strong fine arts department. I got to take classes with some pretty strong faculty. My favorite was actually one who didn’t have a Phd, but he’d spent years in New York as an art critic, so he made the art world really interesting. 


TDP: What made you want to go into teaching?

PO: I just really liked it. You have good professors and you sort of want to be like them. You want to get people excited about the field like they got you excited. I think it’s a good part of graduate school. You get to try it . They let you TA classes and it turned out I really liked it. I came to DePauw in 2009.


TDP: Do you have any favorite artist(s) or works of art?

PO: I have things that I really love to teach, and then I have things I just really love to look at.


TDP: What are some of the things you love to look at?

PO: Pre-modern works of art. They tend to be subdued paintings and ceramic works… fairly simple forms. And then early modern artists that are my favorite… they’re all Japanese artists. Ito Jakuchu is one of them, and he’s famous for  bird and flowers (paintings), which are much more glorious, but he has much more subdued, really interesting ink paintings. The artist I work on, Maruyama Okyo, is quite good. He works in various styles but again, it’s pre-Modern, so they’re not the brilliant, bright colors that we’re used to.


TDP: What do you think of the Peeler Art Center?

PO: I love it. This building is just gorgeous. As an art historian, this is the nicest art building I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a bunch of them. You can see the paining studios from outside, especially at night when they’re lit. It’s just all this natural light that comes in. You’re not going to get the east and west burn as the sun travels. It’s the perfect place to paint. It’s amazing. It’s so well thought out. We’re really luck to have it.


TDP: Is there another part of DePauw you especially like? The students?

PO: Definitely the students. I come from a big, sort of state-school background. At Santa Cruz, I taught a class of 269 students, but what I like are the small classes. Essentially the students, they’re serious. They want to study. At state schools, you get this broad range. I like being able to help students pursue dreams. I like that personal touch. You can see the fruits of your labors that you can’t see at a state school where they’re so many anonymous faces.


TDP: If there was a student considering going into your class, or any art class at the Peeler Center, what advice would you give him or her?

PO: Take the class. This department is very strong. We’re all dedicated teachers. We work hard. The students work hard. They’ll learn something. It has to be about learning, right?


Professor Ota has a Ph.D. in Art History. Her courses are cross-listed with Asian studies.