Your Gifts at Work

The Art of Truth & Pretense

Britt Ragsdale (M.F.A. ’11) is a visual artist living and working in Houston whose media of expression includes photography, video, installation and performance. Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, she completed her undergraduate work at Lamar University before earning her master’s in Photography/Digital Media at the University of Houston.

“I actually began my college career thinking I would be a photo journalist,” she recalls. “Oddly, everyone around me knew I would be an artist before I did.” Ragsdale’s conceptual, out-of-the-box creations have been featured in solo and group exhibitions at Gallery 1724, Lawndale Arts Center, PG Contemporary and Blaffer Art Museum among other venues. Her most recent video exhibition, Playback, was unveiled at Fresh Arts gallery in 2013 and focused on what Ragsdale herself writes is “the social anthropology and psychoanalysis of pretense. False presentations are deeply rooted in social behavior.” In Playback’s intense presentation of frozen moments and repeated gestures from classic movies, the viewer discovers truth beneath the artifice.

In a series of Playback videos titled “Duets,” actual couples assumed pre-arranged poses derived from romantic film scenes. Each couple froze in a single affectionate pose for as long as possible, allowing the viewer to watch the encroaching awkwardness, and the subtle and then more obvious struggle to maintain appearances even as stereotypical “romance” dissolved.

Ragsdale used real couples in Duets, who told her, “Wow, this is hard.” She explains, “The message is we’re not supposed to fit into the look. We are all unique and that was inspired by my own relationship. I’m not saying my guy isn’t great, but he’s not the idea of the perfect man I began with. It takes stepping out of pre-set ideas about what’s right for you.”

Ragsdale’s fascination with human pretense, as we change ourselves to “fit in,” began in childhood. “Growing up in southeast Texas, I participated in pageants, did the debutante thing and drill team – all activities in which you are on display,” she says. “I’m a very introverted person. I became aware at a very young age of all that pomp and superficiality. I started exploring the idea of faking it by adults, by my peers and it made me turn to myself. I think it’s a natural human response to stretch outside ourselves to attract a person or be around a group we want.”

Ragsdale, a 2012 Houston Arts Alliance Individual Grant recipient and 2011 winner of The Big Show CultureMap People’s Choice Award, also received a Presidential Graduate Fellowship and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fellowship during her master’s degree work at UH. “In the UH art department, I was encouraged to explore my own path, which included working with musicians and writers. That was highly beneficial to me. I never felt I was stuck on just one program.” Ragsdale chose UH for many reasons, but driving the decision was her love for Houston. “Unlike New York or Los Angeles, there’s not the same sense of competition here. Every artist wants to help other artists in a vibrant, growing arts city.”

To learn more about Alumna Britt Ragsdale, go to