About the Department of Art & the History of Art

Our department joins the practice of art and architecture with the study of the history of art and architecture. Whether you’re interested in making art or learning about its history, our stimulating curriculum and supportive faculty can help you discover your personal path. You do not have to be “good at” art or art history to succeed in our program. In fact, we do not expect you to have any expertise at all to become excited about these subjects; we thrive on teaching students who explore areas that they’ve never encountered before.

The History of Art

Our program in the history of art provides you with an incredible variety of offerings that is quite unusual, if not unique, at a liberal arts college. You do not need any previous knowledge about the discipline to take our courses. We teach venerable Asian, Islamic, and African visual traditions, plus art from the European Renaissance era through our global contemporary world, and we offer courses dedicated to the history of architecture and urban design. Besides our remarkable breadth, another of our great strengths is that when you dive deeply into art made throughout the world in many centuries, you will learn about cultures through objects and buildings as much as you would by studying texts in a history or literature course. Art history is profoundly interdisciplinary, so that by exploring the architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and material culture of a place, you simultaneously deepen your understanding of the political, religious, philosophical, aesthetic, and social currents that defined it as well. Owing to our dedication to interdisciplinarity, our department teaches relevant subjects not taught anywhere else on campus: for example, the powerful role played by art and architecture in shaping the history of Europe, Africa, India, Japan and the Americas. Our classes examine the roles of the powerful oral tradition and performance in understanding traditional African sculpture; how maps are not factual portrayals of geographical locales but are revelatory of cultural biases and conflicts; how evil was depicted in the form of physically monstrous beings. Also, we teach how the Renaissance profoundly changed European ideas of what art should be that persists to this day, and how new technologies, social movements, and globalization affected the art of now. Inevitably, in our classes, you will face art and issues that challenge preconceptions of our own era—about race, class, gender, politics, religion, and much more. Our classes feature lots of stimulating discussions, because our faculty are all accomplished scholars in their fields of investigation, and we love to seek out your thoughts about what you see and read. We greatly look forward to intellectual exchange with you in our classes.

The Practice of Art

You need not have any prior experience in making art to take any of our introductory courses in studio art. We welcome all intellectually curious and adventurous students seeking to broaden their creative skills or to take the first steps towards developing their own unique personal visions.

We offer courses in drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film/video, studio architecture, textiles, and material-based studies, as well as the variety of courses taught by faculty members in our artist-in-residence program, which brings working artists from all over the world to teach and create on our campus. Students in our primary foundations courses gain technical and analytical skills through classroom practice, critique and the study of the history of each discipline.

Our studio faculty are all working artists with a rich mix of experience in making and teaching art. Fayerweather Hall, which houses the department of art and the history of art, is equipped with a number of large studio classrooms and other facilities, including painting and drawing rooms, a sculpture studio, a print studio, a photography darkroom, a black box video studio, digital lab, woodshop and the Eli Marsh Gallery. Our classes also work closely with staff at the Mead Art Museum on Amherst’s campus to facilitate field trips and events with artists. As part of the college’s Arts At Amherst Initiative, we collaborate with students and faculty across the departments of Music, Theater and Dance on events, projects and campaigns to promote a culture of arts participation across campus. In addition to helping students pursue the practice of art, our faculty assist students in both art history and studio art in finding internships and summer study opportunities with artists and cultural institutions.

In our department, we think of artmaking as not simply an intellectual or creative practice, but as a way of being in the world. We can’t wait to meet you and to work with you in our classes.