The history of art is different from other historical disciplines in that it is founded on direct visual confrontation with objects that are both concretely
present and yet documents of the past. We emphasize analysis of images, objects, and built environments as the basis for critical thought and visual literacy. In addition to formal and iconographic analysis, we use the work of other disciplines to understand visual images, such as social history, perceptual psychology, engineering, psychoanalysis,
cultural studies, and archaeology. Because of its concentration on visual experience, the Art History major increases one’s ability to observe and to use those observations as analytical tools for understanding history and culture.
ArtH 101-102 and ArtH 103 introduce students to a series of critical studies of important works selected from the history of European, North American, and Asian art from antiquity to the present. The critical approach of the introductory courses is maintained in all further courses, often by assigned study of original works in the Williams College Museum of Art, Chapin Library, the Clark Art Institute, and Mass MoCA.
An introductory studio course, at the 100 level, in which no artistic talent or prior experience are assumed, provides vital training in what is a visual as well as a verbal discipline. The requirement of a course in the art of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa (a second course if students have chosen ArtH 103 as one of their foundational courses) expands majors’ geographic as well as cultural horizons, and the requirement of two courses in art from periods prior to 1800 provides a necessary concentration on earlier moments in culture. (As the late contemporary architect, Philip Johnson, said, “You cannot not know history.”) The junior course (ArtH 301) develops awareness of the theoretical implications, as well as the possibilities and limitations of different art-historical methods. The requirement of two additional upper level courses (one 300-level tutorial or 400-level parallel course, the other a 400-level seminar or 500-level graduate course as the final sequence course) enables students to apply that knowledge of methodology to their most specialized work in the Art History route.
ART HISTORY COURSES
The studio division of the Art major has been structured to foster the development of a critical understanding of making art; to support creative interests and to develop students’ perceptions and imaginations as they investigate a variety of visual media. Drawing I, ArtS 100 serves as an introduction to the basic drawing and design principles which establish the foundation for the development of visual expression. ArtH 101-102, Aspects of Western Art or two other art history classes, provide part of the necessary background in the critical analysis of art. The 200-level ArtS courses provide opportunities to learn the elements of some of the principal visual arts media: architecture, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video. These courses combine technical foundations in the medium with analysis of the interrelation of visual form and content. The 300- and 400-level courses place a greater emphasis on the application of appropriate visual skills and strategies to particular thematic concerns, and to the development of the student’s individual vision. All students taking ArtS418 are required to exhibit in the spring of their senior year at the Williams College Museum of Art or other appropriate venues. Students who choose to take two 300-level classes do not exhibit at WCMA in the spring of the senior year
ART STUDIO COURSES
HISTORY + PRACTICE ROUTE
This route allows students to study in depth both the history of art and the making of it. It offers considerable flexibility: students may propose courses of study that emphasize particular media, themes or methodological issues. To mention just three examples, students may design sequences of courses that focus on architecture, gender or narration in both the history of art and contemporary practice. Students may take more courses in one wing of the department than the other, as long as the minimum requirements in each wing are satisfied. The History and Practice route is especially well-suited to students interested in arts-related careers outside of higher education, including work in art galleries, art museums, and primary or secondary school education.
Unlike the history or studio routes, acceptance into the History and Practice route is not automatic. The student must first submit a written application in two copies, one for each advisor from the two wings of the department, as well as a list of proposed courses; this application and list of proposed courses must be given to the department secretary before
registering for the major.
The application must provide a narrative statement of the theme of the major, and why it cannot be accommodated in either history or studio. It is not enough to submit a list of courses; the student needs to show the coherence and integrity of the plan of study, and how it develops the theme of the proposed major.
Some students will be attracted to both wings of the department but will not have a field of study that falls between the two. In these cases, it is better for the student to choose between history and studio—taking additional courses from the other wing as desired. In short, the History and Practice route is reserved for students with a strong record of achievement who
cannot be accommodated in the two wings of the department.
History and Practice majors do not participate in the senior studio exhibition at the end of the year.
History and Practice Faculty Advisors: Michael Glier, Ann McCallum, and Ben Benedict in studio; E. J. Johnson, Peter Low and Michael Lewis in history.