Deborah J. Johnson

Professor Emerita
Department of Art History
Department of Women’s Studies


Ph.D. –  Brown University
Room: Hunt-Cavanagh 205

Area(s) of Expertise:

Modern Art,  American and European art since 1945,  American Art, African-American artists, Women’s studies, Women in the visual, literary and performing arts since 1960, Women in the Media, Museum studies, Art historical theory and methods.

Biographical Information:

Professor Deborah Johnson received her Ph.D. in Art History from Brown University in 1984, specializing in 19th and 20th century European art, the history of photography, and modern Chinese and Japanese art. At Providence College, she has focused her interests on 20th and 21st century western art, especially since 1945. She is also on the faculty of the Women’s Studies Department, which she helped to found in 1993 and of which she is former Director, and teaches regularly in the Black Studies Program and the American Studies Program. Prior to her arrival at Providence College, she worked for over a decade as a museum professional. She continues to exercise her interests in museum work by teaching museum studies courses and serving on the Committees for the Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery and the Reilly Gallery at Providence College. In 2006, she was appointed Manager of Public Art for the State of Rhode Island through which she directed the federal program, 1% for Art. In addition, she earned a Certificate in Jewish Sacred Music in 2013 at Hebrew College.

Deborah Johnson's reflection in Anish Kapoor's sculpture

Current Interests and Research:

Modern and contemporary art; gender studies; popular culture; Black studies; art and spirituality in the contemporary world.

Courses taught:

Modern Art
American and European Art Since 1945
American Art
The Harlem Renaissance
Museum Studies
Interpretive Methods in Art History
Introduction to Women’s Studies
Women in the Visual, Literary and Performing Arts Since 1960
Women in the Media

Henri Matisse Icarus

Henri Matisse, Icarus, by permission of Les Heritiers Matisse.

Selected Publications:

Books and Catalogs:

“The Piano Lesson Negotiated,” Henry Symonds: Matisse Considered and Abandoned, Dunedin School of Art Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand, May 2013.

Associate Editor, International Journal of the Arts in Society, University Press Journals, Victoria, Australia, 2006-07.

Seeing and Beyond: Essays in 18th-21st Century Art in Honor of Kermit S. Champa, written and edited in collaboration with Dr. David Ogawa, Peter Lang, Inc., New York, 2004.

Women Making Art: Women in the Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts Since 1960, written and edited in collaboration with Dr. Wendy Oliver, Peter Lang, Inc., 2001.

“Metaphors and Memories: The Prints and Drawings of Joseph Norman,” Monologue, Joseph Norman, Cornell University, 1997, Ithaca, New York.

Editor, Students on Gender, Numbers 1, 2, and 3, Providence College, Providence, RI, 1994-1996.

Guest Editor, Special Issue, “The Achievements of Women in Photography,” Photographic Insight, Journal II, Number 4, 1992.

Whistler to Weidenaar: American Prints, 1870-1950, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 1987.

From the Age of David to the Age of Picasso: French Drawings from a Private Collection, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 1984. Catalog in collaboration with Dr. Eric Zafran of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA.

Master Drawings from the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 1983. Editor and primary author.

Award: Award of Distinction, American Association of Museums.

A Century of Black Photographers, 1840-1960, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 1983. Editor and author of essay “Black Photography in Context.

Awards: First place, New England Museum Association; Award of Distinction, American Association of Museums.

Deborah Johnson in Chicago

Selected Articles and Chapters in Books:

“Aaron Douglas and Katherine Dunham: The Exploration and Legitimization of African and African Diasporic Roots,” Dance Chronicle with Dr. Wendy Oliver, 3, 2017

“Should States Invest in the Arts as a Tool for Economic Growth?,” The College and University Research Collaborative with Dr. Frances Leazes, May 2014.

“Senate Policy Office Director Marie Ganim credits research by professors Deborah Johnson of Providence College and Frances J. Leazes Jr. of Rhode Island College on the economic impact  of the arts in helping to pass the $35 million Creative and Cultural Economy bond referendum, to support improvements at arts facilities and historic sites” Rhode Island Monthly Magazine, May 2015.

“R (r) ose Sélavy as Man Ray:  Reconsidering the Alter Ego of Marcel Duchamp,” Art Journal, Volume 72, Number 1, Spring 2013.

“Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Selavy, and Gender Performativity,” The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, 2007.

First runner-up for annual Award of Excellence.

Book Review, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Revolutionary Life, Providence, Studies in Western Civilization , Winter 2001.

Book Review, “Women Artists of Italian Futurism: Almost Lost to History,” Art Journal, Fall 1998.

“Photography and the Japanese Print in 1850,” Readings in Nineteenth Century Art , Janis Tomlinson, ed., Prentice-Hall, 1995.

Rose Savant Photograph

“Is Art Central to Art History, and Other Debacles,” The International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, Spring 1993.

“Reconsidering Japonisme: The Goncourts’s Contribution,” Mosaic, Spring 1991.

“Confluence and Influence: Photography and Japanese Print in 1850,” The Rise of Landscape Painting in France, Corot to Monet , The Currier Gallery of Art and traveling to three additional sites, Manchester, NH, 1991.

“Cassatt’s Color Prints of 1891: The Unique Evolution of a Palette,” Source: Notes in the History of Art, Spring 1990.

Exhibition Review, “Mary Cassatt: The Color Prints,” The Burlington Magazine, January 1990.

“Japonisme in Art, an International Symposium,” review, The Burlington Magazine, CXXV, 1982, 561-562.

“Japanese Prints in Europe Before 1840,” The Burlington Magazine, CXXIV, 1982, 343-348.

Europe in Torment, 1450-1550, Brown University, Providence, RI, 1974. Co-editor and author of essay “A History of the Temptation of St. Anthony and the Seven Vices in the Visual Arts.”

Selected Presentations and Panels:

Chair, “Defining the Third Wave: Art, Popular Culture and Millennial Feminism,” Annual Conference of the College Art Association, Washington, DC, February 4, 2016

‘”Beygency’:  Power, Sex, and Subjectivity in the Feminist Politics of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter,” Women’s Leadership Symposium, Oxford University, Oxford, UK, Dec. 8, 2014.

“Rrose Selavy and the Impact of Jews and Judaism on Marcel Duchamp,” Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, MA, December 21, 2010.

“Rrose Selavy:  A Jewish-American Artist and Marcel Duchamp,” Annual Conference of the College Art Association, Chicago, IL, February 11, 2010.

“Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Selavy, and Gender Performativity,” International Conference on the Arts in Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, August 18, 2006.

Conference Organizer, “Making Connections:  Women of the Academy, the Community, and the Church, National Association of Women in Catholic Higher Education,” Providence, RI, June 10th-13th, 2004.

Keynote Speaker, “Rrose Selavy and Gender Performance,” 4th Annual Mark Roskill Memorial Graduate Symposium in Art History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, April 30, 2004.

Faith Ringgold

Teaching Philosophy:

“Remember — the important thing is never to stop questioning!”

-Albert Einstein

In the classroom, I am interested in presenting art works that are not simply visually pleasing (many 20th and 21st century works are not), but that inspire us to think about the work, its maker, the time in which it was made, and ourselves. In addition, I am committed not only to teaching works that are acknowledged as major achievements (see the Matisse above), but those that may have been inappropriately overlooked, such as works by women and minorities (see the Ringgold above). Seeing actual artworks is an important component of my teaching, and field trips to area museums such as the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design , and those in Boston and New York, are important events.