Art History Courses

By Shailen Lakhani - Last update


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A course in art history will teach you a lot more than when to ooh and ah convincingly in a museum; it will involve considering more than the work itself – for instance, you may ask why a painting was created in a certain way at a certain period in time. For this reason there is a lot of study focusing on the circumstances in which the piece was made, making it an exciting and stimulating choice for people who wish to combine their passion for visual art with their intellectual curiosity.

A large part of any art history course content will involve researching the artists and their social and cultural contributions. The reasoning behind this is that gathering some insight will allow you to determine the mindset and motives of the artist. In doing this, much more will be analysed than the personality and aspirations of the actual creator. An art historian recognises that there are many internal and external forces that affect artistic output – they may manifest themselves in the work either consciously or subconsciously. The idea is to evaluate the origins of the work; a typical element regarded would be how it was financed – i. e. who was the patron Any artist who hoped to make a living from his work was reliant upon the patronage or commissions they received, and so this is an important thing to bear in mind when attempting to determine the thought process of a particular artist. Artistic vision would obviously have been influenced by the presence of these people; for example, the sheer amount of religious art is not because all artists had a direct desire to pay tribute to their beliefs; the fact that the Roman Catholic Church sponsored a large volume of artists is a more cogent explanation for the scores of art that can be found in cathedrals and museums today.

There are two distinct categories that can be adopted in the study of the visual arts; these are contextualism and formalism. Determining the context of a painting is done by examining the circumstances of the time in which it was created. A variety of things are evaluated such as the desires and prejudices of the patrons; the audiences the artist was hoping to appeal to; the social problems of the time and many other elements that would have affected the motives of the artist. Formalism takes a more technical approach, such as examining the creator s use of line, colour, shape, and texture. Art historians would consider if it was a representational or non-representational piece; that is, was the artist imitating an object or image found in nature; if this is the case it is seen to be a representational piece of art. If it is less imitative and more symbolic it would be said to be an abstract work; impressionism would be a term used to describe these works which strive to create an impression of nature rather than an imitation of. If the creation is not representative of nature but is rather an expression of the artist s feelings and desires then it is said to be non-representative, or expressionist.

There are a huge number of periods in art that are often studied separately: Baroque, Medieval, Prehistoric, and Renaissance to name a few. Due to the sheer volume of material to be studied art history classes are often provided for specific time frames meaning there is a variety of choices for anyone considering a class. As well as developing a wide array of knowledge about history and art there is also the added benefits of improving your visual and intellectual abilities while spending your time feasting your eyes upon the great masterpieces of the world – not a bad way to spend an evening.


Shailen Lakhani

Addiction Studies
Film Studies