Daniel Zhao

Yale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field — and its varied cultural backgrounds — in one course.

Decades old and once taught by famous Yale professors like Vincent Scully, “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present” was once touted to be one of Yale College’s quintessential classes. But this change is the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western “canon” — a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.

This spring, the final rendition of the course will seek to question the idea of Western art itself — a marked difference from the course’s focus at its inception. Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.

“I believe that every object I discuss in [“Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present”] (with the possible exception of one truly ghastly painting by Renoir) is of profound cultural value,” Barringer said in an email to the News. “I want all Yale students (and all residents of New Haven who can enter our museums freely) to have access to and to feel confident analyzing and enjoying the core works of the western tradition. But I don’t mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places.”

Instead of this singular survey class, the Art History Department will soon offer a range of others, such as “Art and Politics,” “Global Craft,” “The Silk Road” and “Sacred Places.” Barringer added that in two or three years, his department will offer a substitute class to “Introduction to Art History.” But the new class “will be a course equal in status to the other 100-level courses, not the introduction to our discipline claiming to be the mainstream with everything else pushed to the margins,” Barringer said.

While concerns about the class’s singular focus in Western art has led to its cancellation, student enrollment in Barringer’s course skyrocketed this semester after the department’s plan was announced. Over 400 students shopped the class last week, though the course is capped at 300 due to constraints in the number of sections that the YUAG can host.

Phoebe Campbell ’22 — who was among the lucky 300 to enroll in Barringer’s course — said student interest likely stems from positive reviews, as well as the fact that the class is being offered for a final time.

According to Barringer, the class will still cover Western art chronologically from 1300 to the present and hopscotch across European art movements under the roof of the Yale University Art Gallery. Students in sections will still examine objects directly from Yale’s vast collections.

In his syllabus note to potential students on Canvas, an online course management tool, Barringer wrote that the emphasis would be placed on the relationship between European art and other world traditions. The class will also consider art in relation to “questions of gender, class and ‘race’” and discuss its involvement with Western capitalism, Barringer wrote. Its relationship with climate change will be a “key theme,” he wrote.

Barringer has also focused attention on the course’s written assignments. He said that he will invite students to write an essay nominating a work of art that has been left out of the course’s curriculum or its textbook. Like the changes to the course itself, this essay is designed to challenge long-held views of art history.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what works the students come up with to counteract or undermine my own narratives,” he wrote.

In an interview with the News, Campbell said she appreciates Barringer’s efforts to point out the limited scope of the course.

“The class title is ‘Introduction to the History of Art: Renaissance to the Present,’ but in lecture and on the slides, [Barringer] calls it ‘Introduction to Western Art’ because he is aware, while teaching it, that it is not a comprehensive introduction to the global history of art, and that everything we talk about is from a Western perspective,” Campbell said.

Campbell added that while is supportive of the changes, she hopes that the pre-modern Western course material will not be lost amongst the shuffle.

But other students expressed certain dissatisfactions with the Art History Department’s decision to get rid of Barringer’s class.

“My biggest critique of the decision is that it’s a disservice to undergrads,” Mahlon Sorensen ’22 said. “If you get rid of that one, all-encompassing course, then to understand the Western canon of art, students are going to have to take multiple art history courses. Which is all well and good for the art history major, but it sucks for the rest of us, which, I would say, make up the vast majority of the people who are taking [HSAR 115].”

The decision to get rid of this survey art history course resembles the English Department’s move to “decolonize” its degree requirements in 2017. At the time, the department made a sequence titled “Major English Poets” optional for majors.

For years, the Directed Studies program — a six-credit sequence for first-year students focusing on philosophy, literature and political philosophy — has also fielded criticisms about its exclusive focus on the Western canon.

But in an interview with the News in 2018, humanities professor and then-Director of Undergraduate Studies of the program Kathryn Slanski said while many of the authors discussed in the program are “dead white men,” everyone can learn from their texts as long as they perform nuanced and analytical readings. While concerns regarding the diversity of texts taught in Directed Studies are perennial, the University is “up-front that Directed Studies is an introduction to the Western tradition and its influence,” Slanski said.

Political science professor Steven Smith, who teaches a Directed Studies class in the fall, agreed that there is no course that can address everything and that Directed Studies already covers plenty. Still, some students are pushing to increase minority and female representation among authors in the DS curriculum.

Over the past several years, structural changes in the art history major have come largely in part to the department’s active response to similar student suggestions. According to the Director of Undergraduate Studies Marisa Bass, students motivated the creation of courses like “Global Decorative Arts,” “Sacred Art and Architecture” and “The Politics of Representation.”

“Yale’s History of Art department is deeply committed to representing the intellectual diversity of its students and its faculty, and we believe that introductory surveys are an essential opportunity to continue to challenge, rethink and rewrite the narratives surrounding the history of engagement with art, architecture, images and objects across time and place,” Bass said. “These surveys and those that we will continue to develop in the future are designed in recognition of an essential truth: that there has never been just one story of the history of art.”

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

  • Joseph W MacCarthy

    The autodemolition of Yale continues.

    • CC

      Clearly, Yale doesn’t think the current student body can withstand the rigor of Art 100.

  • Higherominous Bosh

    “Yale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field — and its varied cultural backgrounds — in one course.”

    Wait, so: Diversity = Death? Wow.

  • Peter C Neger

    This is actually pretty tragic. I understand that there is far more to the “history of art” than the development of western painting and sculpture, but someone who graduates from Yale University ought to at least know how to tell the difference between a Doric capital and a Corinthian one, know the names Rembrandt, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Renoir, Picasso, etc — as well as being able to at least have a sense of when they painted and in what style. It’s really just a basic part of a liberal arts education from a great university. If the department wants to insert days on great eastern or African art into the program and delete some white guy from the current course, fine. But to deprive the Bio or English Lit major who wants a well-rounded education without having to commit to multiple Art History courses makes no sense to me.

    I feel especially fortunate to have gotten to take this course from one of the great lecturers of our time.

    • Aaron S

      I think you meant “illiberal arts”.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    Just as bad is as the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas. SJW Jacobin Taliban.

    Worst people in the world.

  • SGT Ted

    ‘The class will also consider art in relation to “questions of gender,
    class and ‘race’” and discuss its involvement with Western capitalism,
    Barringer wrote. Its relationship with climate change will be a “key
    theme,” he wrote.

    So, you’re ruining it with woke garbage.

  • bearman

    The end of academics is at hand and that is a good thing because of what it has become.

    • Who Cares?

      How many Liberal Arts or Sociology degrees are serving up coffee at Starbucks these days while complaining that their 4 years of college loans are overwhelming them?

  • bearman

    Oh great the “shut up” brigade is going to ban my comment. No one can critique the elite.

  • LawAbidingCitizen

    Leftist academics and radicals (did I just repeat myself?) will be shocked and surprised when all their efforts to tear down [western] civilization and culture are successful and they find themselves victims of the lawless hordes. What will these elitists do when the Committee of Public Safety comes for them.

  • TexUte

    What a joke. I was a biology major (not at Yale), but Art History was one of my electives and was one of my most enjoyable classes. Still have the book. Of course there are non-Western art traditions of great worth, especially in Asia, but any teacher worth a darn should be able to integrate that into the overall presentation. The connection between art and climate change? These people have lost their minds.

  • Michael Mayo

    Ok everyone. The good news is that Kenneth Clark’s magisterial “Civilization” is available under Brit Box” on Amazon Prime, which will give you the basic Art History course Yale is scrapping and without all the politically correct cant that’s infected liberal arts. Seriously, much of western civilization was expressed in western art. Islam didn’t believe in art and Eastern art was mostly decorative and not reflecting religious or political beliefs as western art did; so this stuff that other art was/is equal to the vast and varied output from the Roman’s, Greeks, Italians, French, Germans, Dutch, and English is just nuts. Check out the series and see what real scholarship looks like.

  • Ryan

    This is why scoff at the ivies. Losers.

  • end pin

    and people ask why have been expulsed 109 times

    JEWS YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING THAT HAVE HAPPEN TO YOU

  • 5JimBob

    Definitely send your children to Yale. Forget professional or business success, An undergraduate degree from Yale university will offer a major stepping stone to membership in the Inner Party*.

    *If you have to Google the term, you need to read more.

  • John D.

    The students at Yale just lost ground to those community college students with a vibrant art history program.

  • matismf

    The Ivy League degrees are now the equivalent of degrees from the HBCUs.

    • Play Righter

      HBCU: Would that be Highly Biased Colleges and Universities?

  • G. Vanderleun

    Yale students demand to be dumber and the college accommodates them. Genius level depravity.

  • Tom Tyler

    Notice how these Politically Correct fascist academics make the claim they are simply responding to “student demands”. Whose demands?

  • Tom Tyler

    Obviously, it’s time to publicly impose certain elements of the curriculum on Yale and other PC-infested pseudo-private universities.

  • Karl

    Just a few days ago I told my students that the biggest fools you will ever meet come from Ivy League schools. Thank you, Yale, for supporting my claim.

    • CC

      I am so glad my daughter got wait-listed!! She ended up going to Harvard but I’m not sure that’s much better. The Ivy-League is over big time!!!

      • aaleli

        It’s not. Trust me.

  • Nestor33

    Wow. In less than a generation, Yale has gone from promoting its world-class course attractions, to apologizing for them, to eliminating them.

    Sad.

  • John__Andrews

    Yes, but that wouldn’t achieve the goal of no longer teaching about “white, straight, European and male” artists.

  • janchup

    Vincent Scully’s course freshman year, 1964-65 is why I majored in something as obscure and non-remunerative as History of Art. Yale seems to be uncomfortable with Western Civilization these days, embarrassed at the phenomenal achievements of Caucasians. Political Correctness, everyone knows what everyone knows, has entered the house. “Questions of gender, class and ‘race:” Vomit. “Did Van Gogh self-identify as a girl?” Discuss in 5000 words or less. And oh those nasty rich high class Medici in Florence.

  • Marcin Kowalczyk

    Yes, and don’t forget – Rembrandt was a black woman.

  • yt1300inhtown

    student uneasiness over an idealized Western “canon”

    also: Over 400 students shopped the class last week, though the course is capped at 300

    I guess they were so busy shopping it they didn’t have time to provide quotes or evidence of all this “uneasiness”.

  • CC

    This is so sick and misguided – vagina power is evil

  • CC

    Remember about 15 to 20 years ago when Robert Bass of Texas offered Yale $20 million to establish a seat to study the ‘Western Canon’ – they rejected his offer!! SO WHY would anyone give money to Yale today?

  • Mike

    The names of these committees alone is chilling. One of the best Universities in the world? Have they not read up on their Engels and Marx? Or explored the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution? This is Marxism of a most insidious variety; it masquerades as activism, hides behind the veil of “inclusivity,” and pretends to advance justice. It does nothing of the sort. They can call it post-modernism or “de-colonization.” They can prop themselves up with the words of Foucault or Derrida. But strip all of that away and you are left with a most illiberal and regressive dogma that is being marshaled forward with an implied threat of force, i.e. cancelling.

    Has anyone ever tried airdropping books onto college campuses? I’d pay to see Jonathan Haidt’s “The Coddling of the American Mind” and Douglas Murray’s “The Madness of Crowds” and Stephen Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” rain down upon New Haven.

  • PatatasFritas

    Alright.
    As a European, I sincerely need to ask Americans to stop using their concept of race and racism on other countries.
    To simply slap “white” over the entirety of Europe’s population, despite their rich and varied ethnic backgrounds and cultures is downright offensive. You cannot take somebody from Norway and somebody from Italy and proclaim they are the same.
    Secondly: Many of the artists whose work you’re preferring to no longer include in your course weren’t “straight”. For you to not know this proves that you aren’t fit for the job.

  • Michele Martinato

    Artemisia Gentileschi, Plautina Nelli, Caterina van Hemessen, Levina Teerlinc, Sofonisba Anguissola, Barbara Longhi, Lavinia Fontana, Diana Scultori Ghisi, Marietta Robusti are all males because indeed Europe is a male society. Leonardo and Michelangelo are undoubtedly straight… uao !!!
    Venetians and Ottomans didn’t know each other…. Obviously a Cyprus inhabitant was white, while a inhabitant Constantinople, Beirut or Damasco was not. Europe indeed is a cultural and racial watertight compartment of a Victorian ship.
    I had suspicions about the quality of some US humanistic teachings…and obsession with races, but now I hadn’t it.

    In order not to be divisive and politically correct I propose to replace the European artifacts of your museum with ethnic crafts. The museum will become much more interesting than my village fair.

    • John Sand

      A male society? Are you actually this stupid?

      • Michele Martinato

        But you don’t know that Leonardo a true macho produced racist and degenerate white art…. As american, consequently as racial expert you can help me classify the Palaiologos.

        Unfortunately, the boat people who arrive in Italy belong to the race that nobody wants, the race of the poverty. If they landed with suitcases full of money they would be welcomed with open arms and smiles and could also be green-skinned with tentacles.

  • John Sand

    Quick summary of the comments below, for those with limited time: a pathological fear of upsetting or going against “the classics”. I feel that if I read the meeting notes from the day that the Degenerate Art Exhibit was planned, I’d get much the same–fear, by the ignorant, of that which they cannot understand, and makes them uncomfortable. Then, it was Jewish and leftist artists. Now, it’s “them coloured transgenders with all them fancy pronouns”.

  • John Sand

    No kid raised by you would get within 20,000 feet of this school.

  • John Sand

    If you’d graduated college, it might have occurred to you that the climate around one affects landscape painting, etc.

  • carlito

    My god. Where all this madness will lead?

    • Abelard Bonaventura

      communism

    • Abelard Bonaventura

      communism

      • Anton magnizki

        communism in the States? I lived in the USSR and no one has ever asked questions about who was what color when I wrote the Mona Lisa.
        this is done by the servants of the rich, who distract the imaginary tolerance from the real problems of passionate people, and also prevent the attraction of new supporters. because no one wants to mess with sick perverts

  • LuciousVanWinkle

    This is what ACTUAL racism looks like in 2020. Any attempt to intellectualize this ongoing dismantling of White history/culture will only aid in concealing reality and excusing the perpetrators. Whites need to dust themselves off, organize and attend to their enemies in a very Anglo Saxon fashion. Have at it lads.

  • black lagoon ¯_(ツ)_/¯★★★★★

    spam

  • The Phoenix

    Mike owns you.