Art 105, Introduction to Visual Culture, is a broad survey that covers prehistory through postmodernism and considers work from around the world. In class we use a comparative method, typical to the discipline of art history, where we look at works in pairs to reveal similarities and differences, but without creating a hierarchy. We are also using something called Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS), which employs careful looking. More than half of what we can learn about works comes from this careful looking, and employing an expanded version of Erwin Panofsky’s iconographical method, which divides the study of work into subject matter and style; the rest of what can be learned comes from research, which provides historical contexts for what we see.
In this course we use what is called the “flipped” classroom. The lectures for the class are recorded and are watched through Moodle as homework. In class we practice the careful looking and comparing; sometimes through discussion and sometimes using artistic methods like sketching, which provides allows for kinesthetic learning. Students take four exams and complete a course project that is displayed at the end-of-the-semester exhibition Art Now. For the project students choose four styles or cultures from each unit and create a “timeline” around a theme and medium of their choice.
Below are works created by students who took the class last year, illustrating the cultures and styles that we are studying in the first unit. Both Kaylin Greer (’18) and Sheridan Gallagher (’14) illustrated the paleolithic part of the prehistoric era. Kaylin has subtly captured colors and shapes from the cave paintings of Lascaux; the curved form alludes to the Woman of Willendorf, which Sheridan has captured in her miniature painting. The society that produced the works that inspired these interpretations were primarily concerned with finding food sources – their visual production was functional in that it was thought to help them achieve success in finding food and fertility.
Brooke Dominguez (’17) used photography to capture the notable feature of Sumerian votive statues — their large eyes and static poses; while Josh Gaal (’17) used his unique style of line drawing to capture the spirit of Egyptian work we studied.
We also studied Greek and Roman art in the first unit (the Greeks had a fully-developed Aesthetic theory thanks to Aristotle; the Romans had the first Art Critic–Cato the Elder). Sheridan produced an abstracted miniature acrylic of a Doric-style Greek column (seen as the more masculine style compared to the more feminine Ionic style); Josh was inspired by black-figure and red-figure Greek pottery. His design provides an original take on the conception of space by the Greeks on functional and also decorative art objects.
We also studied visual representations of three religions in this unit–Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. We looked at examples of sculptures and architecture for each. Josh Gaal (’17) has captured several elements of Buddhism in his line drawing (below). He’s illustrated the Buddha’s urna (third eye) and ushnisha (top-knot hairstyle) both of which indicate the wisdom achieved with nirvana. The empty stretched earlobes indicated the method that nirvana was reached — by rejecting material goods. Siddhārtha Gautama, who became known as Buddha, was first a Hindu prince; the result is that some elements of Hinduism were transferred to Buddhism.
We concluded the first unit with study of the Middle Ages, focusing on the Migration Style (Viking metalwork), Early Christian manuscript illumination, Byzantine mosaics and the Gothic style of church architecture. Brooke Dominguez (’14) used photography to capture a makeup that simulates the tesserae (glass pieces) that are combined to create mosaics. The expression of her model mirrors the attitude of figures found in Byzantine icons.
Both Kaylin Greer and Amber Mills illustrate aspects of this unique type of architecture. Kaylin combines the shapes of both pointed arches and flying buttresses to create her design; Amber Mills (’14) focused instead on the large circular stained glass window (known as a “rose window”) as her focal point.