Art admins unhappy with art history offerings

To School of Art administrators, students are unable to gain the art history background necessary for their field.

Undergraduate art majors are currently required to take two history of art classes, and graduate students often supplement their education in the History of Art Department despite the absence of a formal requirement, School of Art Dean Robert Storr and Associate Dean Samuel Messer said. Still, Storr, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate art classes, said he does not feel history of art offerings provide the basic knowledge of art their students need to learn and instead focus on the theoretical and methodological lenses more appropriate for the art history field itself.

“Increasingly, art history is about structural, methodological or theoretical things, when in fact just the acquisition of when, where, what and how is something that students need to get knowledge of,” Storr said. “Even if they’re looking at the same material, we’re looking at it different ways.”

Messer said many students are not taught art history before coming to Yale and do not want to spend time on history of art courses once they arrive.

“People that don’t know [art history] can be repeating things, thinking that it’s never been done, and then be surprised when they realize it’s been done for 2,000 years,” Messer said. “I think it’s important to know [art history], but I also think you have to know it so you can step aside of things and react to things.”

Messer added that when students do study art history, they gain only a “very shallow” knowledge or focus on narrow topics, adding that these are often Eurocentric in nature.

“There is unfortunately not enough outreach into other cultures, into other time periods, into other modes of thinking,” he said.

To increase students’ exposure to art history, particularly in a more global context, the school offers graduate seminars such as “Contemporary Global Art” or “Theories of Perception.” Still, Storr said he does not think that these courses fully combat the problem, and added that he hopes the School of Art can begin to teach its own art history survey course that could cater specifically to the needs of practicing art students. But the school lacks the funding to hire another faculty member for that purpose.

“I don’t think we’re in the position to start offering survey classes in art history,” Messer said. “We don’t have the funds, and that’s really not what we’re here for.”

Two graduate students interviewed said that while they feel studying art history is important for producing art, they believe graduate students already have a foundational understanding in the field. Wayde Macintosh ART ’13 said most of his peers gained a basic knowledge of art history during their undergraduate educations or through classes they’ve taken at Yale. Meena Hasan ART ’13 said students need to study art history to a greater extent based on their medium. Painters, for instance, can trace their style of art through the entire artistic canon, while multimedia artists are more limited when studying the past.

Graduate students must take six credits outside of the School of Art.

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