Johnna Henry '15 Art History and Creative Writing

Her Campus Hollins: So, you're in Paris! How is that so far?

Johnna Henry:  Paris is amazing! Before living here, I didn't know it was possible to fall in love with a city.

Her Campus Hollins: What is the best thing?

Johnna Henry: There are a lot of things that I love about Paris, but i think the best thing is the creative spirit that runs rampant here.  I now understand completely why writers like Earnest Hemmingway were besotted with this place.  I love happening upon something, whether it's a spectacular view of the Seine or a particularly graceful ancient Gothic church and being completely overwhelmed.  Also, the crèpes and pain au chocolat aren't half bad either.

HCH: What are your classes like?

JH: My classes are really interesting! They are mostly in French, although the architecture course that I'm taking is in English.  I'm also taking a modern art class and, of course, French. I love my Architecture and Modern Art classes because oftentimes we meet on site to discuss buildings or works of art in person.  There's nothing like analyzing a painting when you can see the artist's hand at work up close and personal.

HCH: What are you most looking forward to?

JH: I look forward to little things every day, so it's difficult to say if there is one thing I'm most looking forward to, although it would probably be the beginning of spring when all of the gardens here will come to life.

HCH: Favorite memory in Paris so far?

JH:  My favorite memory here might be seeing Manet's Olympia in person for the first time at the Musée d'Orsay, although it's difficult to choose. I've always been attracted to this painting and the ways in which it was radical and horrified the people who saw it for the first time.  Manet did not see himself as being radical but rather taking everything he had known from the past and applying it to a modern subject.  It seemed natural to him, and I think that's a really interesting way to think about this piece.  Seeing it in person was one of my favorite moments because I could see all of these things that I learned about this painting that I've loved since high school in person.

HCH: What made you want to go to Paris?

JH:  I wanted to go to Paris because it is an incredible city, and I knew that this might be one of the only times in my life where I can really travel and come to learn a culture different from my own.  I wanted to push myself.  I wanted to grow.  I wanted to experience the art that I've loved studying in person and improve my skills in speaking another language that I've grown to adore.

HCH: What is the hardest thing about being there? 

JH: The hardest thing about being here, I think, is allowing myself to be okay with not knowing exactly what is happening.  I'm so accustomed to being in control of my situation and understanding my surroundings, and realizing that it's okay to make mistakes, like saying something incorrectly in French.  Also, missing my family and friends tremendously.

HCHWhat inspires you as a poet?

JH: I'm inspired by a lot of things but I'm particularly inspired by Mississippi (my home state), saints, art, stillness, John Rybicki, and of course, Paris (how could I not?). I'm not sure exactly what it is that inspires me (but)  I think that in all of these things there is a sense of legend.  I come from a storytelling state where rich, tall tales are lauded, and I think that saints have a similarly legendary nature.  I like the idea of truth and what that actually means when it comes to writing, which is really just a construction.  John Rybicki once told me to "tell the glorious lie to get at something large." The idea that truth lies in one's emotional reaction to something, to feelings and sentiments themselves rather than fact, changed the way I look at writing.  Art is similarly a construction, created to incur an emotional response.  

HCH: What is your major and why did you pick it?

JH: I'm double majoring in Art History and Creative Writing because I'm passionate about them both, and they inform each other in a lot of ways.

HCH:What do you want to do in the future?

 JH: My goal is to one day be a curator of contemporary art. I want to be a contemporary art curator because part of the curator's job is to sneakily teach people about art, whether they like it or not.  And in a lot of cases, contemporary art needs to be well explained for people to appreciate it, and I want to facilitate that need.  Contemporary art is important to me because it's our present, and it is important to notice artists who are currently or recently working because they are revealing things about our present, and we can learn from that.  I realized I would like to focus on contemporary art after my first year seminar, and that was confirmed my sophomore year when I had a j-term internship at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston Salem, NC.

HCH:  What is your favorite thing you've done at Hollins?

JH:  My favorite thing I've done at Hollins was participating in Ring Night.  It's one of the few events on campus where students of all ages really come together to create a magical, albeit crazy, weekend.  I've never felt so much love in my life and being able to share that experience with so many people that I care about deeply is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.

HCH: Who is your hero?

JH:  My hero is, hands down, my mother.  She's the strongest person in the whole entire world.  I can only hope some of her wisdom, light, and grace has rubbed off on me.

HCH: Favorite book - fiction and non fiction?

JH:  Still Life with Oysters and Lemon by Mark Doty.  I love Still Life with Oysters and Lemon because you can't categorize it.  It is simultaneously autobiography, a meditation, poetry, historical and art historical analysis, and prose.  Not to mention, Mark Doty is a master of description, something that is important to me as a writer, and I feel as though I've learned a lot from his work. 

HCH: Words of Advice?

JH:  Don't underestimate yourself! You can only learn when you force yourself out of your comfort zone.

HCHWhat are some of your hobbies?

JH:  Crafting.  I am a Hollins woman to the core.  Reading, antiquing, and tap dancing.

HCH: What is your go to when you're stressed?

JH: When I'm stressed out, I organize and clean like crazy.

HCH: Have you written any poetry in Paris? If so, would you like to share a line or two? 

JH: I've been writing here and there. Mostly journaling and formulating some of my ideas for my senior thesis.  I haven't been extremely disciplined, but I write when things come to me.  Here's a couple of lines I wrote a couple of weeks ago:  I can't not do that: make a love song out of a place/ and you are a place lit through me like consumed moon.