Art is a way of seeing the world. It carries messages that words alone cannot convey, and it is important to understand how different perspectives influence what we see in art. The study of art history can teach us to look at works of art in a way that makes them more meaningful. It allows us to consider what they were meant to convey, and how those ideas can change over time.
In the past, art was viewed as a way of glorifying God, celebrating culture’s deepest values, and expressing the artist’s emotions and spirituality. It was also viewed as a symbol of wealth and power. In the 18th century, however, a movement known as Realism encouraged artists to depict more realistic scenes from everyday life. This shifted the focus of art from mythology, history, and religion to more of an emphasis on the mundane aspects of everyday life.
This shift was a direct result of the rise of capitalism. As capitalism grew and gained more control over societies, it began to view art as a commodity. With the onset of the industrial revolution, this further shaped the views on what art was. The value of art became based on how much it was worth to the marketplace and the popularity of certain artists.
As a result of the changing values in society, students today may not have an appreciation for art or how it can be used as a tool to better understand our world and our place within it. The goal of teaching art history is to encourage students to examine artwork in ways that will help them become more culturally literate and aware of the world around them.
One way to approach art history is by using the six types of evidence when analyzing a work of art. The types of evidence are physical, documentary, internal, period style, regional style, and personal style. Physical evidence includes the materials used (i.e. bronze), documentary evidence refers to notes or records written about the piece, internal evidence is specific to a period of time (i.e. hairstyles), period style is specific to a culture (i.e. Greek or Egyptian styles), regional style refers to artistic characteristics tied to a geographic area, and personal style is attributed to an individual artist (i.e. Van Gogh).
Another way to approach art history is by comparing and contrasting historical masters with living artists. This helps to make the content relevant to students and can increase student engagement by making it more relatable. It can also encourage higher level thinking by challenging students to compare the ways that a living artist interprets their subject. For example, asking students to evaluate how different techniques are reflected in the subjects of each artist’s work can challenge them to think critically about the different meanings behind artwork and how those interpretations can change over time. Lastly, a great way to engage students is by having them divide the images into groups of four and ask them what each image has in common. This can be done with photographs, paintings, and sculptures.