Thursday, October 06, 2005

Is it History or Art History?

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to talk to another one of my students in the survey course I TA in. She asked me some very interesting questions that I realize I need to consider for future classes. On of those questions was why we were moving so slow through the materials? She felt that she had heard much of this before and that we were just dragging things out. She also mentioned that she was already struggling with the need for art history but this survey course includes so much history.

I begin my response with a recognition that this student is not a freshman and that she had been in one survey art history course before, the modern to contemporary class. However in a community college there are many types of learners. Art history classes are at times popular classes for continuing education students as well as adults. These are students who may know much of the historical events covered in an art history course. I may be confronted with many students such as this one. First though I address the issue of so much history in an art history class...

As I continue to struggle with the term revisionist I am again reminded why I chose the term in response to this students questions. If students are learning a celebratory history or a one-sided (only from one person or cultures point of view)then much of what is covered with be repetitious and possibly boring. But if history is a record of past experience from many cultures/points of view and art history is the visualization of that experience then will it get boring and repetitious? I believe that the changing and at times confrontational manner of revisionist history would create an interesting dialogue within the art history classroom. And further, can I or anyone separate history from art history? It seems that historical inquiry is changing. In the field of anthropology many changes have come about in response to changing notions of "other" cultures and how we go about studying them. Possibly this student felt the disconnect between history and art history because the field of art history has not kept up with changing times in relation to how it is taught and studied and interpreted. Obviously this is an area where I need more research. This change in methods is an important one that must be articulated by those in the field of anthropology, art history, and humanities. Thank you to this student who was willing to ask critical questions as it has opened up for me an opportunity to see a gap in my own studies. Now how to engage her in her own question through the course?

Another statement this same student made was that out study of Rome and Greek for two classes was not only too long but not applicable to her. I wonder how many of the other students feel the same way. In fairness, the instructor of this course attempts to draw those connections between the cultures and our contemporary society. He makes reference to many of the things we borrow from Greek and especially Roman culture. We looked at government and civic life, as well as entertainment for the masses, etc. In my American white mind I could not help but draw multiple similarities and usefulness of information. Even seeing the oppression of women in these cultures was something I was able to relate or see the importance of. It is here that the tenents of critical pedagogy seem to jump off the page. One is that as an educator/learner I must think critically of my own experiences and bias when it comes to issues such as these. I cannot assume that all students will see the relevance of a picturesque Western Culture. Two is that students must be able to dialogue and draw their own conclusions. It is not enough for the teacher to impress upon the students what the connections are. The students must explore for themselves if these works matter to them. This does not mean that I don't teach it because they don't like it. Instead I encourage them to make connections and even more to not think of any one culture as being isolated from the others and their own. Again this conflicts with the lecture style of many courses. It also suggests that the typical images of Greece and Rome, and all other cultures may need to be supported by images of daily life, religious practice, and civic duty instead of just roman victory arches or busts of emperors. The instructor for this class does a wonderful job of including such images but without the chance to discuss many of them are lost on the students and seen only as something they must learn that is a symbol of instead of an aspect of a culture. Possibly this is where the local art connection would be strongest, to see how much of art history is still relevant today.

1 comment:

Bad Andy said...

Your question of whether or not it is "history or art history?" seems to be the topic that cannot escape my mind. Is there a difference? In my Theater history class it was hard to determine whether or not we were studying theater historically or history from a theatrical perspective. Some students did not care for Old Greek Comedy, others could care less about the Morality plays of the medieval period. Some were intrigued by the development from oral tradition to monologue to dialogue. Others were interested in the love/hate relationship of the Catholic Church and theater. We talked a lot about historical relationships, but we also spent a lot of time on the development of performance places, stage/lighting technology, incorporation of other media.

What is the goal of an Art History course? Outline Art in the context or our history... our historical experience? Is it to share the development of composition? Can one separate what one expresses from how it is expressed? Do we begin to lose the importance of artist intention? Does function within a community super-cede artist intention? Does found art begin to become more significant than created/intentional art?