Alumni Stories: Mathieu Sly

Mathieu Sly (M.A. '14) has risen far and fast since his time at Queen's. He pursued film studies at Sheridan College, and later earned a post as Videographer to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He is currently Social Media Officer for the National Gallery of Canada. 

In the first of our new series of Alumni Stories, Mr. Sly shares some of his journey, and hints at what the future holds. All photos by Adam Scotti.

Why did you pursue an Art History degree?

When I was in high school the path was always Medicine, but when my brother pursued Opera I asked myself what class I enjoyed the most, and the answer was Art. I tried not to overthink it, and had to work to convince my parents that art really was my path. As it turns out it's a bit more complicated than that and I think it's very hard to expect a kid who's 17 to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. I believe that the way society is changing, one person may have a number of different careers nowadays. I'm a pretty good example of that. I went to Queen's in Fine Art, but found I enjoyed ARTH 120 so much that I wanted to spend more time reading and writing, and less time in the studio. So I switched from Fine Art to Art History. I'm now 31 and I'm still jumping around, but have had a pretty exciting life so far doing it. I've worked in film in Toronto, worked at the National Gallery of Canada, traveled the world as Justin Trudeau's videographer, and who knows what else life has in store. ;) 

Mathieu Sly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Queen's Art History alumnus Mathieu Sly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Adam Scotti.

What career paths did you envision after graduation?

When I decided to do a Master's in Art History it was because I was getting a lot of positive feedback from my professors. I thought I would become a professor myself, in Medieval Art. How wrong I was. Quickly after beginning my M.A. I realized that I was more of a creative than a scholar. I wasn't interested in facts per se, but the stories you could mine from the historical record. I was getting feedback on my essays saying, "this is not a creative writing assignment." That was the moment I knew I would not be going on to a Ph.D. But was it all a waste?  

What are some unexpected ways your Art History education has served you in your professional life?

After my M.A. I went to film school and realized very quickly how useful my art history background had been. A filmmaker who is able to really convey mood, subtext, and narrative through a single shot is very much like a painter. You require a clarity of vision. Like a painter, a good filmmaker is economical - this may be subjective, but that was one takeaway for me. Through art history I also learned to express myself clearly and succinctly. There is a certain mastery of a language you get through having to communicate your ideas effectively for six years in an academic environment. In a very practical way, an M.A. opens certain doors in and of itself. I was always taken more seriously in professional environments because I had a Master's degree irrespective of the context. 

Mathieu Sly

Queen's Art History alumnus Mathieu Sly (M.A., 2014)

Adam Scotti.

What advice would you give to current students of Art History at Queen’s?

Don't be narrow minded and don't be naive. Don't expect that you will 100% become a professor of art history. If it's really what you want, then of course believe in yourself, but keep your eyes open and don't get down when your path changes by your choice or not. There are jobs I've had in my career that didn't even exist when I started my undergrad degree (Social Media Officer at the NGC), so you never know what life will bring, and I think that's fun. The way I see my studies and the various jobs I've had is as a strong diversified portfolio. The biggest fallacy in my view is that when you're in your 20s you have to have it all figured out. Curiosity, optimism, and joy have always served me well. These things are contagious. Good luck! 

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