September 30, 2023


How Art Works

Rethinking the Curriculum by Rethinking the Artwork Historical past Survey

4 min read

by David Boffa

In my final years at Beloit School I used to be lucky sufficient to take part in a curriculum redesign for the artwork historical past program, undertaken within the wake of our exterior departmental assessment.

The inspiration of our authentic curriculum was a well-known one: a two-part survey (Prehistoric to Center Ages, Renaissance to Trendy) centered on the Western canon and rooted within the fashions established by conventional textbooks like Gardner’s, Janson, and Stokstad. This mannequin is a core a part of the artwork historical past expertise at many small liberal arts faculties (and sure at many massive universities). An analysis of 66 institutions by Melissa R. Kerin and Andrea Lepage (revealed in 2016) discovered that solely 16% of colleges didn’t explicitly prioritize Western surveys; the remaining all required the Western survey in some capability (as a standalone requirement or alongside a minimum of one course on a area outdoors the West). [1]

In our revised curriculum, we changed the usual survey courses with a topics-based intro course merely known as “Introductory Subjects in Artwork Historical past.” This may very well be on any subject of the professor’s selecting. College students have been required to take a minimum of one intro-level class earlier than transferring on to intermediate (200-level) programs in artwork historical past (additionally on any subject). The catalog description for the final intro subjects class was the next:

“This course offers an introduction to the first strategies and approaches within the research of photos and objects. Whereas particular person subjects will range relying on the trainer, all courses will train the talents of visible evaluation and object-oriented analysis, and domesticate in college students an understanding of the significance of objects’ historic and social contexts, each within the interval of their manufacturing and throughout historical past. Meant to introduce college students to the breadth of artwork historical past and put together them for higher degree coursework on this and associated fields, the category considers a wide range of media, together with (however not restricted to) portray, sculpture, structure, and concrete planning, movie and pictures, and design. Could also be repeated for credit score if subject is totally different.”

In removing the normal survey, we selected as an alternative to agree on a set of studying outcomes that we needed for all our college students. These outcomes have been:

* Conduct visible (stylistic, formal and iconographic) evaluation of photos and objects.

* Translate visible materials into written and verbal types of communication utilizing self-discipline particular vocabulary.

* Reveal a broad understanding of supplies and mediums.

* Reveal a broad understanding of the function of social/historic/bodily contexts.

* Reveal robust analysis abilities that embody the flexibility to assemble and consider each main and secondary sources.

To present an instance of the attainable vary of introductory programs, listed below are two syllabuses from introductory programs that served to exchange the normal survey: “‘It’s harmful to go alone!’: Taking a Nearer Take a look at the Legend of Zelda” and “From Myron to Muscle Seaside: Sports activities in and as Artwork.” Word that the latter course was taught in the course of the transition from the previous curriculum to the brand new one, and thus the course retains the previous (200-level) numbering, regardless of being meant as an introductory-level survey class.

“It’s harmful to go alone!”: Taking a Nearer Take a look at the Legend of Zelda (here)

From Myron to Muscle Seaside: Sports activities in and as Artwork (here)

In each courses I needed to parlay pupil curiosity in a subject—video video games and sports activities—into an understanding of and appreciation for the tutorial research of visible tradition.[2]

What this allowed was a complete rethinking of an artwork historical past survey—i.e., not tinkering with it or making an attempt to suit non-Western objects right into a Western framework, however an uprooting of what a survey might be. As a Renaissance artwork historian I’m keenly conscious of the eagerness that may be generated via “traditional” artworks from the normal Western survey, however it’s long gone the time that we cease prioritizing such a mannequin. Doing so wouldn’t solely be good for artwork historical past, nevertheless it may additionally provide the possibility to steer by instance for larger inclusivity and fairness in increased training extra broadly.


[1] Melissa R. Kerin and Andrea Lepage, “De-Centering “The” Survey: The Worth of A number of Introductory Surveys to Artwork Historical past,” Artwork Historical past Pedagogy & Observe 1, no. 1 (2016), 3, . The authors discovered that at 43% of the faculties surveyed the Western survey remained the dominant mannequin; a majority of the establishments additionally required an alternative choice to the Western survey, usually as an intermediate degree class.

[2] I talk about this at larger size in an article particularly in regards to the Zelda class, which I’m comfortable to share (contact me instantly): “Take Away the Sword: Educating for Creativity and Communication with the Legend of Zelda in Artwork Historical past,” in Mythopoeic Narrative in The Legend of Zelda, ed. Anthony G. Cirilla and Vincent E. Rone (Routledge, 2020).

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