NY Times Article on Art History

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QuizbowlPostmodernist
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NY Times Article on Art History

Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist » Thu Mar 09, 2006 5:41 pm

If you thought I was gone forever, sorry to disappoint you.

A possible jumping off point for anyone who wants to discuss art history and the concept of canon.

A possibly interesting New York Times article on an updating of Janson's History of Art, which seems to be one of a big three of art history survey books used in college courses, along with Stokstad and Gardner's.

Out: Louis Le Nain, Domenichino, Louis-François Roubiliac, Jan Van Eyck's "The Crucifixion, the Last Judgment", and Whistler's Mother, with about 25% of the book changed overall

In: Chris Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary", Whistler's "Symphony in White No. 2", Clara Peeters, Grant Wood, and more on Judith Leyster and Robert Rauschenberg
But [Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University] added that it would probably never regain the dominance it once had, simply because the whole idea of a book like it, or other supposedly all-inclusive surveys like "Gardner's Art Through the Ages," first published in 1926, had become outdated.

"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.

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Post by Nathan » Mon Mar 13, 2006 5:16 pm

"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said. "

The problem with this, of course, is that he's confusing some sort of "canon" (i.e. a body of works which purportedly have arete as opposed to non-canonical works which do not) and the obvious point that there is a body of art for which it is undubitably necessary for every art student to be conversant with...for contextual purposes if nothing else ("subversive" art is hardly subversive if the audience is unfamiliar with the conventions being subverted).

as Summers rightly pointed out, the general trend in the academy away from survey courses is quite worrisome...leading to general ignorance.
attempts to attack such courses on a philosophical level tend to be so woefully illogical as to lend themselves to the conclusion that the real motivation is simply the (understandable) annoyance that faculty members have for teaching them.

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Post by Deviant Insider » Tue Mar 14, 2006 12:03 am

I'll have to disagree with Nathan on this one. I may be biased--20 years ago, I chose a college that didn't require any surveys, took advantage of it, and am glad I did.

I can agree that there are certain works that every serious art student should be conversant with, but I don't think surveys serve a purpose. If you want to take one or two art history courses because it's interesting, then pick an art subject and/or art teacher that you find interesting. Spending one day near the end of the semester on Pop Art and then one day on everything that comes after Pop Art just isn't worth the frustration, and you are as likely to be misguided as guided. If you are serious about art history, then by the time you finish any eight courses in the subject, read a few additional books, and walk around a few museums you will be conversant in whatever it is you are supposed to be conversant in.

College is a great opportunity to dig into some areas in depth. At any point in your life, you can read a book or an article in an encyclopedia or magazine about something, and you'll learn as much about it as a survey course would teach you. In college, you can read ten books about a subject, listen to an expert, and take part in conversations. You can think deeply about the controversies involved. Such an involvement gives important insights about the nature of scholarship in other fields. These are the opportunities you don't get after college. If you stay in academia, you might get those opportunities again, but only within your own discipline.

I'm oversimplifying things a bit here, and it is probably hypocritical because I believe in high school survey courses and have made a career out of teaching them. However, I stand by the point that college survey courses generally should be avoided.
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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Tue Mar 14, 2006 6:44 pm

ReinsteinD wrote:I stand by the point that college survey courses generally should be avoided.
What? To expand on what I perceive to be Nathan's point, if you want to take a course on Dutch Baroque painting, great. But in order to appreciate Rembrandt, you have to know about the origins of tenebrism, i.e. Caravaggio, and then before that you have to know where Caravaggio came from, etc. You need the survey courses to build a framework on which you can draw when taking specialized courses. I agree with Mr. Reinstein that college provides wonderful opportunities to specialize, and I also agree with Nathan when he says that surveys are being overlooked in favor of courses on (in some cases perhaps too) specific subjects.

The problem is the idea that we should JUST have a survey-level knowledge of the different subject areas within the liberal arts and sciences. Are we to eliminate majors altogether? I understand the draw of such a concept for someone that's say, prelaw, but should we have this program for all undergraduates then leave specialization till grad school? Survey courses are essential and should be taken to gain perspective on the progression and/or diversity within a given subject area, but students shouldn't be forced to spend their entire college career taking them in every subject at the expense of more specialized courses in areas in which they're more interested.

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Post by Chris Frankel » Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:38 pm

ekwartler wrote:The problem is the idea that we should JUST have a survey-level knowledge of the different subject areas within the liberal arts and sciences. Are we to eliminate majors altogether? I understand the draw of such a concept for someone that's say, prelaw, but should we have this program for all undergraduates then leave specialization till grad school?
In my opinion, absolutely. Let's be honest and admit that college is basically the new high school: very few people want to be academics, the rest of the students are going because a BA/BS is basically viewed as a prerequisite for jobs. I don't think that means we should go the other way and turn college into vocational school, as so many places do with bullshit majors like communications or sports management, but I think the goal should be not to force every person to act like a junior academic and waste time poring over minutiae and mimicking academic-style publishing, but to provide everyone with a well-rounded liberal arts education that gives them a framework and understanding of human culture and the world around them.

Specialized classes shouldn't be eliminated, but they certainly are overemphasized in colleges today; the worst is when you get professors who have pigeonholed themselves so far into their niche area that they can't even comprehend the basics of their field. The option should be there if people decide they want to become academics and specialize, but forcing people to declare majors, especially when so many of departments are increasingly focusing on pseudo-academic disciplines (____ studies, critical theory) or extreme niche subjects accomplishes nothing substantive. I would have gotten a lot more out of my college experience had I been able to take what I wanted on my terms, which would have been a substantial range of survey classes, rather than being shuttled off into one department and pissing away time on mandated niche independent work that in no way reflects what I've learned or what I want to do with my education. I imagine my own autodidactic preferences have to do with this situation, but being a quizbowl generalist has taught me far more than any college ever could.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by grapesmoker » Tue Mar 14, 2006 8:15 pm

Chris Frankel wrote:I would have gotten a lot more out of my college experience had I been able to take what I wanted on my terms, which would have been a substantial range of survey classes, rather than being shuttled off into one department and pissing away time on mandated niche independent work that in no way reflects what I've learned or what I want to do with my education. I imagine my own autodidactic preferences have to do with this situation, but being a quizbowl generalist has taught me far more than any college ever could.
I can't support this sentiment strongly enough. As a science major, the vast majority of my time in college was focused on math and physics. Had it not been for quizbowl, or something like it, I almost certainly would not have been exposed to many, many other disciplines in my classes. As far as anything outside of science goes, I'm pretty much self-taught, and having been through the specialist experience (actually, I'm still experiencing it), it makes me a little sad that I'm not more of a generalist.
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Post by Deviant Insider » Tue Mar 14, 2006 11:59 pm

There are a few schools that have general studies majors, which is essentially the equivalent of not majoring and sounds like what some of you might want.

In general, majors and associated courses use up about 30-40% of your workload, which leaves a fair amount of room for other courses. Unfortunately, certain majors at certain schools take up more than 40% (engineering is often the worst), and keeping up with a language can use up a lot of your electives, but it is possible to major in a subject and sample a large number of departments. It sounds like the way I would sample departments is a minority view on this board--so it goes.

I agree that you get a better appreciation for Dutch baroque painting if you have a wider knowledge of art history, but I have faith in a student to figure out the things you talk about while studying Rembrandt even if that student doesn't know about them going in. You might learn more about Caravaggio in a Rembrandt class than you will in a survey class. The art history major taking his eighth art history course will understand things better than the dabbler taking his first course whether or not the major has taken a survey course.
David Reinstein
PACE VP of Outreach, Head Writer and Editor for Scobol Solo and Masonics (Illinois), TD for New Trier Scobol Solo and New Trier Varsity, Writer for NAQT (2011-2017), IHSSBCA Board Member, IHSSBCA Chair (2004-2014), PACE Member, PACE President (2016-2018), New Trier Coach (1994-2011)

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