Frances Connelly came to the Frick Fine Arts graduate program in 1979 with the idea that she would work toward an M.A. degree to complement her M.F.A. One course with David Summers, taken in her first semester, convinced her otherwise. She completed her Master’s thesis in Renaissance art but shifted her focus for the Ph.D. to the nineteenth-century. Aaron Sheon was her mentor, and his interest in graffiti, caricature, and the “other side” of nineteenth century imagery in general, made a significant impact. While at Pittsburgh, she also had the opportunity to study with Visiting Mellon Professors Gabriel Weisberg, Roy Sieber, and Edward Fry.
With the help of the Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship and a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship at the Museum of African Art, Connelly completed her dissertation on the origins and development of primitivism. This work led to her first book: The Sleep of Reason: Primitivism in Modern European Art and Aesthetics (Pennsylvania State University Press) published in 1995 and reprinted in paperback in 1999. Research for this study was funded through a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship (residency at Johns Hopkins) and an NEH Summer Seminar grant. The intersections between cultural anthropology and art history that generated the research on primitivism led to over a decade of work on the grotesque and its place in modern art and theory. In 2003, Connelly edited and contributed to a volume of essays titled Modern Art and the Grotesque (Cambridge University Press), and her study, The Grotesque in Western Art and Culture: The Image at Play, will be published by Cambridge in 2012. Other work on the grotesque has been published in a catalogue for a major exhibition held in Frankfurt, Munich, and New York (Neue Galerie) and another at the Picasso Museum in Málaga.
She continues to teach at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, which is located within a few blocks of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She has served as department chair, and authored the Global Arts Initiative which brought funding and an endowed professorship to the art history program. Connelly is currently active as an Honors College Faculty Fellow. She is looking forward to welcoming a recent Pittsburgh graduate, Cristina Albu, as the newest addition to the UMKC art history faculty this fall.