Art is the production of objects, places or experiences that appeal to and connect with human emotion. It can arouse aesthetic feelings such as delight or joy, or moral ones like disgust, but it is not necessarily a reflection of those emotions; seeing a smear of soup in a man’s beard can make us feel disgusted even though neither the soup nor the beard is actually disgusting. This is the power of art—art has the ability to influence our emotions in order to provoke new questions or change our perceptions.
The study of art is a foundational skill that helps us make sense of our world and ourselves, making it easier to navigate complex cultural systems and histories. Art history courses are a good place to begin learning how to read and analyze texts as well as to learn the vocabulary of art and visual culture.
A major in art history is designed to introduce students to the breadth of the field, allowing them to choose a specialization and focus on particular areas of inquiry. This allows them to develop a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of an artwork as well as how to critique it.
In addition, the discipline of art history provides a unique set of tools to explore questions about the world and human experience that are not easily addressed by other disciplines, such as political science or philosophy. It also allows students to gain a perspective on the world that is not often reflected in other academic subjects, such as biology or economics.
Many students choose to study art history as part of a larger arts or social sciences degree program. These majors may be interested in pursuing honors in their undergraduate program by completing an additional series of required coursework. Students who wish to pursue honors must file a petition with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the spring quarter of their third year. Those who successfully complete the additional coursework are eligible to enroll in the BA Paper writing seminar (ARTH 29800) in Autumn Quarter of their fourth year.
Some art history theorists emphasize the contingent, cultural and historical features of art while others give priority to explaining its more abiding characteristics. Still others seek to explain both at the same time, but fail to do so coherently.
Art is a powerful tool to pull people to action and make a difference in the world. It reaches into our hearts and tugs on our emotions to get us to act. Whether it is activists using photos of children in war-torn areas to inspire us to donate to relief efforts or artists like Nicholas Roerich painting scenes of Eastern lands and traditions to express their spirituality, art has the potential to shape our actions, thus creating significant social and political contributions.
Incorporating art history in your classroom can be as simple as giving kids colored chalk and a piece of construction paper and letting them draw. Displaying the drawings on a bulletin board can help reinforce concepts and introduce students to the work of other artists. Alternatively, teachers can teach students about different materials or techniques and use them as the basis for projects. For example, teaching children about the process of creating sculpture by having them work with clay is an excellent way to demonstrate a range of different art skills and techniques.