Art and the History of Art

Learning Goals

Concentration in The Practice of Art: Studio

  • Aims

By graduation a concentrator in The Practice of Art should have developed critical and analytical thinking in the visual arts as well as gained some mastery with the discipline's techniques and methods as a means to explore artistic, intellectual and human experience.

  • Methodological skills

Students build toward creating a personal vision beginning with primary studies in drawing and introductory art history, proceeding to courses using a broad range of media, and culminating in advanced studio work that is more self directed. Working with their advisor, students are encouraged to nurture the strong interdisciplinary opportunities found both at Amherst and the other institutions in the valley.

The comprehensive examination, which consists of an oral examination and an independent studio project, provides direct evidence of the level of achievement.  For the oral examination students are expected to be familiar with 150 modern and contemporary artists from a list supplied by the department. Students are responsible for 75 artists in their third year and an additional 75 in their fourth year.  In the oral comprehensive examination students offer formal and contextual analysis and discussion of works of art selected by the faculty from the list of 150 artists.  The independent studio project is completed during the senior year. (It is waived for studio thesis students.) This project, which is a work of art designed and created independently by the student, can be in any medium or combination of mediums, and may be interdisciplinary in nature. Students are required to develop a statement that places their work of art within a historical and artistic context. Students= independent studio projects and corresponding statements are exhibited in the spring.

The studio faculty administers the oral comprehensives and determines each student's level of mastery of the material. The studio faculty also reviews the independent studio projects and statements and assesses the quality and ambition of the student's investigations.

Concentration in History of Art: The “Art” of the History of Art

Students concentrating in the “Art” of the History of Art should have a recognition of the “ART” of the history of art.

This Concentration embraces the idea that art is multifaceted: it is an attitude of reverent being, a devoted act of inspiration and only finally an object. Taken together, this attitude, act and object seek to re-integrate what reason separates and offer occasions in which we may behold intimations of wholeness.

A body of knowledge of:

  • major monuments, movements, styles, artists in a range of media (painting, sculpture, architecture and so on), across a broad historical, geographical and cultural range to understand how works of art embody ideals and values
  • a range of artistic techniques, to better understand the choice, say, of one printmaking technique over another, one paper over another

Together, these two disciplines reinforce and enlarge each other as academic means for an ever deepening and widening contemplative encounter with the transcendent imagined reality called ‘art’ and its history in the world across time, geography and cultures.

  • a range of historical, critical and theoretical approaches, and the ability to apply them

All of this is based on the experience of original objects, in the culture where they were made, whenever possible.

A range of necessary tools:

  • Necessary languages to read primary sources in the original languages wherever possible
  • Courses in key related fields (such as history, anthropology, religion, black studies, WAGS, political science and so on)

A set of skills:

  • The ability to rigorously analyze – and make meaningful connections – between what a student experiences, sees and reads.
  • The ability to present work orally in a clear and compelling manner
  • The ability to write persuasive arguments, and marshal the most vivid evidence
  • The ability to generate meaningful questions and perform original research at a high level, either in an honors thesis or a seminar
  • The ability to flourish in graduate programs in art history, should a student so choose

Concentration in History of Art: Historical and Cultural Studies

  •    Aims

By graduation a concentrator in the History of Art: Historical and Cultural Studies should be able to demonstrate a deep and broad visual understanding of a range of artistic traditions, and specifically be able to articulate diverse contexts and meanings of works of art and architecture across time.

  •    Methodological skills

We expect students to have the ability to work with several mediums (architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and material culture) in a range of historical periods (before and after 1800) and geographical expressions (Europe, as well as Africa or Asia); to integrate the practice of art into their historical study; and to develop substantial skills in cultural interpretation (i.e., political, religious, philosophical, aesthetic, and social dimensions)

The comprehensive examination, which is written and oral, provides direct evidence. The written component of the comprehensive examination asks students to respond to a particular theoretical writing by applying the ideas they encounter to works of art they have studied in one of their courses. The oral component of the comprehensive examination requires them to articulate their ideas in a seminar of all concentrators and faculty advisors. We currently have no formal means, such as surveys of our graduates, of soliciting indirect evidence. We speak informally with graduates about how well they were prepared for graduate study in art history or other fields they enter.

The three faculty advisors of this concentration read the written comprehensives and participate in the seminar that constitutes the oral component of the comprehensive. The faculty members may review the transcripts of all concentrators (not just their advisees) to see if our requirements are guiding majors to the learning goals we expect. As presently constituted, our concentration is new, so we have not yet made changes in those requirements.