Interview with an Auditor: Dr. Beth Neary

The Department of Art History would like to introduce our new series: Interview with an Auditor! The department will be sharing interviews with various auditors during the course of the upcoming 2019–2020 academic year. Everyone has interesting stories to tell and we hope to shed light on our auditor’s stories and experiences within our classrooms. 


Our first auditor interviewee, Dr. Beth Neary, is a pediatrician and graduate of the UW-Madison’s medical school who first took an art history class when she was in high school in New Jersey and then later, in college, an introductory course on architecture where she met her husband. While Beth did not pursue art history or architecture in college, she took a winding path through an anthropology, then business major before settling on nutrition. It was through her studies in nutrition that led her to medical school, where she graduated at the age of thirty-six. After retiring from her career in pediatrics, Beth began to think about what she had put on hold, which included art history. 

Art history has always been part of her life, as she traveled on vacations with her family where they inevitably ended up in art museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in particular, became one of Beth’s favorite museums to visit as her daughter worked there for several years. Her daughter originally trained as a lawyer, but began painting as a form of therapy and eventually began pursuing her MFA at Boston University. These trips and interactions with art provided Beth with a sense of relief and release from the stress surrounding a career in medicine. 

Relief, release, and calm are all emotions that Beth’s favorite artwork, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France, evokes when she visits. The display of Monet’s work at the l’Orangerie provides an immersive viewing experience that allows for her to become lost in the painting and truly relax. 

Since auditing art history courses, Beth has noticed a change in the way that she looks at art within the museum setting. Learning more about the works, Beth realizes that before she didn’t fully understand certain works of art as she was unaware of the details and stories that they each have to tell. 

The first course that Beth audited was Professor Phillips-Court’s Spring 2019 class on the art of Rome and Florence. Italy is an especially meaningful place for Beth, as she traveled there often with her daughters and architect husband, who took them on “dark church tours” around the country. These memories greatly influenced her choice to audit Professor Phillips-Court’s course, especially since her husband had recently passed away. After her husband’s death, Beth has looked toward these art history courses as a form of therapy. She currently is taking Professor Pruitt’s course on the history of architecture in twenty buildings as a way to stay connected to her husband. Dr. Beth Neary has shown that art has the ability to inspire, calm, incite emotion, and even the ability to heal. 


By Tania Kolarik