In 1976, Christopher Knight graduated from Binghamton University with a master’s degree in art history. Then, 44 years later, Knight would go to win the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. However, Knight’s path from BU student to acclaimed Los Angeles Times art critic was not an easy one.
It began here at BU, where Knight studied art history. He looks back fondly at his experience as a student and how it helped shape him into the person he is today, with particular regard to his peers.
“In addition to first-rate faculty, I had first-rate fellow students,” Knight said. “There was camaraderie plus a degree of competitiveness that sharpened our inquiries.”
The faculty also played a large role in shaping Knight’s experience at BU. Specifically, Knight cited Albert Boime, professor of art history, who taught at BU from 1972 to 1978, as a large influence on his interest in art history.
“I owe a lot to the late … Boime, who was on my master’s thesis committee and had agreed to lead my dissertation committee before I changed course,” Knight said. “[Boime] was one of the earliest, most perceptive proponents of revisionist art history, particularly in broadening our understanding of the 19th century origins of modern art.”
Boime’s perspective on art history was extremely impactful on Knight, which is a common theme coming from both current BU students and alumni.
“[Boime] sparked my interest in art’s social history,” Knight said. “As a journalistic critic, I‘ve benefited enormously from those viewpoints. Revisionism values new ways of seeing, and journalism chronicles the unfolding of social history.”
After graduating from BU, Knight started working as a curator for an art museum. While this seemed to be the perfect career for him based on his interests and education, it was just not the right fit. After discovering that he did not want to be an art curator, Knight started looking into other options. Eventually, he stumbled into an opportunity to write art criticism in Los Angeles.
“Someone recommended me to an editor at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner who was looking for a writer,” Knight said. “I wrote several pieces — an audition, unbeknownst to me — then got a job offer. I learned the journalism end on the job.”
Knight found his experience as an art journalist to be much more rewarding than his prior job. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner was on its last legs as a publication and would close in 1989. Shortly after that, the Los Angeles Times took Knight on as a writer and he has worked there ever since.
Knight has garnered a lot of acclaim for his work as an art critic. In addition to his 2020 Pulitzer Prize award, he is a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award in art journalism from the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation. Looking back on his career path, Knight has valuable advice for aspiring writers.
“Take whatever position you can, then make yourself indispensable,” Knight said. “Be firm in your convictions about your subject, but also make your editor’s life easier — they have a lot on their plate and will appreciate it. And a good editor can make you look better than you are while keeping you from looking foolish.”
While his experience has led to him becoming knowledgeable in the journalism industry, Knight also has strong general advice for all BU students and alumni, regardless of what they studied or the field they are in.
“If the work you do around the object of your attention is not pleasurable, you are doing it wrong,” Knight said.
Overall, Knight makes for a great example of a BU alumnus taking what they learned in the classroom and applying it to their career and everyday lives to great success.