Rethinking the Curriculum by Rethinking the Artwork Historical past Survey

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 overview.

The muse of our unique 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 faculties 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 Subjects in Artwork Historical past.” This may very well be on any subject 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 subject). The catalog description for the overall intro subjects class was the next:

“This course supplies an introduction to the first strategies and approaches within the examine of photos and objects. Whereas particular person subjects will fluctuate relying on the teacher, all lessons will educate 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 pictures, and design. Could also be repeated for credit score if subject is totally different.”

In getting rid of the normal survey, we selected as a substitute to agree on a set of studying outcomes that we needed for all our college students. These outcomes had 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.

* Exhibit a broad understanding of supplies and mediums.

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

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

To offer an instance of the potential vary of introductory programs, listed below are two syllabuses from introductory programs that served to interchange 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 Seashore: Sports activities in and as Artwork.” Observe that the latter course was taught throughout the transition from the outdated curriculum to the brand new one, and thus the course retains the outdated (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 Seashore: Sports activities in and as Artwork (here)

In each lessons I needed 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 making an attempt to suit non-Western objects right into a Western framework, however an uprooting of what a survey will be. As a Renaissance artwork historian I’m keenly conscious of the fervour that may be generated by means of “basic” artworks from the normal 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 additionally supply the possibility to guide by instance for better inclusivity and fairness in greater 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 & Apply 1, no. 1 (2016), 3, . The authors discovered that at 43% of the colleges surveyed the Western survey remained the dominant mannequin; a majority of the establishments additionally required a substitute for the Western survey, usually as an intermediate stage class.

[2] I focus on this at better size in an article particularly concerning the Zelda class, which I’m joyful to share (contact me straight): “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).