Art and the History of Art

Learning Goals

Concentration in The Practice of Art


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 honors thesis or an independent studio project, provides direct evidence of the level of achievement. 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


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 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.