September 30, 2023


Make Some Fun

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 evaluation.

The inspiration of our authentic curriculum was a well-known one: a two-part survey (Prehistoric to Center Ages, Renaissance to Fashionable) 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 giant 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 exterior the West). [1]

In our revised curriculum, we changed the usual survey lessons with a topics-based intro course merely referred to as “Introductory Matters in Artwork Historical past.” This might be on any matter of the professor’s selecting. College students had been required to take a minimum of one intro-level class earlier than shifting on to intermediate (200-level) programs in artwork historical past (additionally on any matter). The catalog description for the overall intro matters class was the next:

“This course offers an introduction to the first strategies and approaches within the examine of pictures and objects. Whereas particular person matters will fluctuate relying on the trainer, all lessons 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 stage 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 images, and design. Could also be repeated for credit score if matter is totally different.”

In putting off the standard survey, we selected as a substitute to agree on a set of studying outcomes that we wished for all our college students. These outcomes had been:

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

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

* Show a broad understanding of supplies and mediums.

* Show a broad understanding of the position of social/historic/bodily contexts.

* Show sturdy analysis abilities that embrace the flexibility to assemble and consider each major and secondary sources.

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 Observe that the latter course was taught through the transition from the outdated curriculum to the brand new one, and thus the course retains the outdated (200-level) numbering, regardless of being supposed as an introductory-level survey class.

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

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

In each lessons I wished to parlay pupil curiosity in a subject—video video games and sports activities—into an understanding of and appreciation for the educational examine of visible tradition.[2]

What this allowed was a complete rethinking of an artwork historical past survey—i.e., not tinkering with it or attempting to suit non-Western objects right into a Western framework, however an uprooting of what a survey may be. As a Renaissance artwork historian I’m keenly conscious of the fervour that may be generated by way of “basic” artistic endeavors from the standard Western survey, however it’s gone the time that we cease prioritizing such a mannequin. Doing so wouldn’t solely be good for artwork historical past, nevertheless it may also provide the possibility to guide by instance for higher inclusivity and fairness in larger schooling 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 stage class.

[2] I talk about this at higher size in an article particularly concerning the Zelda class, which I’m joyful to share (contact me immediately): “Take Away the Sword: Instructing 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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