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What is art history about?

Connections: Who is art history for?

Art history is for all students who want to engage with visual culture and the creative expression of artists, and with the production of art works.

Students who are passionate about gaining a critical and meaningful lens on the human condition study art history.

Art history is for students who want to develop skills in analysis and in appreciation of art and aesthetics. They learn to apply historical understandings and knowledge to their contemporary and dynamic visual world.

Purpose: Why study art history?

Art history offers students a visual perspective on their world. It explores the spectrum of resonant and revolutionary thinking by artists that, through insight into the past, effects change and innovation.

Art history teaches students ways of thinking, questioning, and asserting their values and sense of humanity.

Students learn skills in visual literacy that they can use knowingly and critically in their immediate visual environment and in a wider cultural and social context. They read, interpret, and synthesise the effects, signs, and symbols in art works.

As students examine how artists have challenged accepted notions, invented and generated new perspectives, or expressed eternal themes such as love, death, and renewal, they transfer their personal responses and new thinking into their life experience.

Art History sparks curiosity, demands intellectual rigour and prepares students for further academic or tertiary study.

Skills of discussion, interpretation, analysis, and evaluation transfer beyond the content of the discipline. There is a future focus in the use of digital and visual technologies and applications.

By looking at the past to understand human cultural achievement and endeavour, students learn to treasure Māori, European, and other cultural heritages.

By looking at contemporary visual culture and art practice, students connect to their twenty-first century world where diversity, pluralism, and flux, such as multiplicity of styles, are acknowledged.

Students form a strong base for undertaking any visual art, architecture, fashion, or design course where a range of contextual or theoretical studies require and encourage skills of critique.

Art history provides pathways into a range of art and gallery or museum-related professions, such as curatorship and arts administration, and also into arts-related education.

Knowledge: What is valued knowledge in art history?

The valued knowledge in art history stems from our human capacity to connect and share ideas and experiences across the boundaries of time and space and through chronological, stylistic, or thematic surveys of art.

Art history develops visual literacy by ‘reading’ narrative and iconography, and interpreting and analysing meaning from art works.

Art history describes, interprets, and analyses the meanings that can be attributed to the effects, subjects, and symbols represented in art works.

Art history develops appreciation and understanding of and connection with art and cultural artefacts and objects from our local, national, and global environment and the past and present.

Students learn to recognise, identify, and categorise the stylistic characteristics of art and art movements, for example, the progression towards abstraction during the twentieth century.

Art history builds skills in critical response and interpretation that expand our understanding and knowledge of society and of art and artists.

Students contextualise and translate the ideas and intentions of artists and art from the visual into the written and spoken language by viewing, responding to, and critiquing art works.

Art history encourages connections between ideas, viewpoints, and practices to reach a broader and deeper understanding of cultural and artistic endeavour, which students connect to and frame within their own viewpoint. For example, students might trace the development of religious iconography in painting or reference themes of nature or the human figure.

Art history enhances our experiences of the visual world as viewers and participants, within a framework and applying methodology that enable us to transfer new knowledge to our own sphere.

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Last updated April 23, 2012