By THOMAS SACCENTE – STAFF WRITER
Being able to take an image that one has in mind and using it as the basis to create something tangible, be it in the form of a sculpture, painting, or anything else, has always been a valued skill and has lead to the creation of countless works whose beauty and ingenuity continues to inspire people to this day.
As time passed, the nature of art, as well as the methods used to create art, has changed dramatically, with new techniques and ideas being incorporated into the general field with every passing year. Centre students have taken it upon themselves to study this progression with a major in Art History.
Art History is an immense field of study that can be taken in countless different directions. The discipline involves researching a variety of movements and styles throughout the course of human history in order to understand where certain aspects of art came from, as well as the many economic, social, and political contexts in which they appeared.
According to Professor Emeritus of Art History Dr. William Levin, Art History is an area of expertise that incorporates a wide variety of different disciplines in order to allow students to see how art changed over the course of history, as well as how art is always indicative of the era in which it was created.
“Familiarity with the philosophical religious, anthropological, economic, political, scientific, and literary trends and developments must all be brought to bear for a nuanced understanding of the history of art,” Dr. Levin said. “These subject areas are all vital components of the liberal arts, and they all contribute to the study of the history of art. Conversely, knowledge of the progression of the history of art, in general and in particular, throws light on those other fields. Understanding this progression illuminates not only how the human race arrived at the place that it has but also throws light on where we are likely headed.”
Centre provides a variety of classes designed to allow students to experience as many of these options as possible.
The first class that an Art History major must take is a two-semester-long course called “Survey of Western Art,” which provides a general overview of the history of Western Art and the various historical periods associated with it from prehistoric times to the twentieth century, laying the foundation for future study. The next step is to take several upper-level classes that deal with specialized facets of Art History.
These courses range from rather broad concepts like “Modern Art” and “Collections and Collectors” to more specialized topics like the “Social Life of Prints” and “The Portrait from Pharaoh to Facebook,” the latter revolving around the history of portraits and how it relates to the way in which people construct the self. According to Assistant Professor of Art History Dr. James Bloom, the reason for having so many of these upper-level classes is to challenge the way Art History majors think about art in as many ways as possible, in particular trying to understand how Art History can tie into other disciplines and how images work instead of what they mean.
“For example, rather than teach traditional period surveys [like] Italian Baroque Art, I’ll teach a course called ‘Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Reflections of Vision in Art’ that explores the relationship between vision, art, and technology from the Renaissance to the present,” Dr. Bloom said. “We tend to think that art and science occupy opposite ends of the intellectual and academic spectrum; historically, the two have usually been understood as practically co-extensive, think of Leonardo da Vinci, for example.”
Majoring in Art History requires students to take at least one studio art course in order for them to become acquainted with the skills that are necessary in order to create art as well as a 220-level language class of their choosing.
That last requirement may seem out of place, but it was instated into the curriculum in order to teach students how to handle reading documents that pertain to art history in foreign languages, thereby allowing them to expand their viewpoint on a particular subject in ways that could not be done otherwise.
The capstone of studying Art History at Centre is undeniably the senior thesis.
This involves a student working alongside an instructor in order to craft a substantial research paper over the course of the school year.
At the end of the year, the student presents his or her thesis to a public audience, who then grades the presentation based on both the quality of the research, the writing, and the student’s ability as a presenter.
Earning a degree in Art History can lead to many career opportunities after graduation. In addition to the given professions of teaching art to others and/or pursuing further research in graduate school, students who major in Art History will gain the qualifications necessary to pursue careers in fields such as museum curators among other possibilities such as auctioneering, public affairs, advertising, architecture, and interior design just to name a few. There are countless professions in which a thorough understanding on the progression of art would prove useful.
This degree can also pave the way for interesting career opportunities in foreign countries. Senior Art History major Hannah Ensign-George has big plans in mind for her future after graduation.
She plans to take her interest in Byzantine and Northern European Art by studying and/or teaching in a foreign country for a year, then returning to America to put her talents to use for the government.
“When I return to the States I would either like to enter the Foreign Service or work toward a Master’s degree in public affairs or public policy,” Ensign-George said. “Someday I would like to be working on cultural policy for the United States government, creating laws and treaties to protect art and antiquities around the world as a branch of American public diplomacy.”
Art History is a worthwhile path to pursue if one has a true fascination with art and how art forms have progressed alongside human history.