AHA has always believed that art and culture are for everyone and not just art historians.  A knowledge of culture and civilisation is necessary not just to gain qualifications but to understand fully the societies we live in, how they came about and where they are heading.
Helena Roy, alumna and winner of our scholarship back in 2012, followed her AHA course not with the planned degree in Law, but in Economics and a growing interest in behavioural economics.  Since then she has:
  • been a prolific blogger for AHA
  • completed her Economics degree at Cambridge (Double First Class Honours)
  • taken a second gap year where she worked as an Analyst for UNICEF and a Task Force Coordinator for Youth in the Arab States (both in New York)
  • been a pre-doctoral scholar for Caltech in Los Angeles
  • volunteered for the Social Mobility Foundation
  • worked in New Delhi as a Research Assistant for Evidence for Policy Design at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University

She is now back at Oxford for the second year of her MPhil.

How did your AHA course change you?

I loved the time in Italy. The tutors and curriculum made a huge effort to connect us with more than the art. I’ve since started learning Italian and regularly go back. I focus on the food more than the art now, but it was the “ideal” trip in a way and has probably influenced the way I travel. I’ve also experimented with some photography lately, in India and Naples.

What’s the most important thing we should know about you now?

Perhaps the more unusual thing is that I’m not in Art History. I did AHA at the start of my gap year, when I was applying to university to read law. My scholarship essays had focused on two pieces (one sculpture, one painting) that I thought expressed arguments against the death penalty in a hyper-emotive form. I ended up reading economics at university and loved it. I took a(nother) gap year after my undergraduate, but I’m back now studying for my MPhil.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with cropped hair

To try and relate the two, I would say much of what I loved about art is related to what interests me in economics. I like dissecting why people make the decisions they do – in particular how emotions, heuristics and pure rational thinking interact when people take a certain course of action (loosely behavioural economics).

I think art often reacts to elements of this – conflict, interpretation of the information around you, or forcing the viewer closer to the consequences of their actions. At the moment, for example, I’m interested in gender norms – why and how they’re enforced by different people and where the effects crop up. Art, films, fiction are endlessly rich sources to understand how women and others view gender.

What other art attracts you now?

La Lecture by Picasso is a favourite (I posted that on Instagram recently). I wrote my scholarship pieces about the Execution of Lady Jane Grey in the National Gallery and St. Bartholomew in Exquisite Pain by Damien Hirst. I also liked the artwork in Oceania – the current exhibition at the RA.

What are you looking forward to this year?

My thesis (the research more than the writing). Visiting Berlin for the first time. I went to Naples, Ischia and Turin this year – I’d like to go to Italy at Christmas at some point.  Ideally I’d like to get my scuba licence.
If you’d like to read Helena’s blogs, delve into our archive:

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