At the Intersection of Art and Science

by Andrew Allan

As a teenager, Christa Robbins began her college career intent on becoming a painter. But after a few years toiling in oils on canvas and earning her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and printmaking, she realized she was more interested in studying art than in making it. So Robbins left the studio behind to become an art historian—a rare transition for someone in her shoes. “I made the conscious decision to stop making art,” she says.

Three years later, she landed at the University of Chicago, studying under art and media theorist W. J. T. Mitchell; she focused on modern abstract painting and criticism and earned her PhD in 2010. After teaching appointments at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Cornell College; and Texas Christian University, Robbins came to Caltech in 2013 as the Mellon Caltech-Huntington Postdoctoral Instructor in Art History, a position created by John Brewer, Caltech’s Eli and Edye Broad Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of history and literature.

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