Art History

The discipline of art history focuses on the study of the visual objects. In art history classes, the activity is not the creation of art works (as in studio art courses), but rather the analysis of the art forms that have been created from prehistory to the present and produced in a variety of cultures. Art history examines all kinds of visual production, not just painting, sculpture and architecture, but also, among others, drawing, photography, printmaking, crafts, decorative arts, furniture, digital art, performance art – virtually any artistic expressions that have a visual component.

Art historians analyze art works in many different ways. Traditionally art history was associated with close visual examination of the art work – what we call “formal” analysis — and with attribution and connoisseurship, that is, with determining which artist made a particular work. But modern art history examines art works from a very wide, and often interdisciplinary point of view, considering questions such as:

  • What iconographic meanings are communicated by the works.
  • How do art works relate to their religious contexts and functions?
  • How are art works shaped by their social, political, and economic environment or by the patrons who commissioned them.
  • How are various ideologies communicated via art?

The Art Department at the University of Arkansas currently offers a BA degree with a concentration in Art History. The course offerings cover the main periods of art history from Ancient through Contemporary art. Our introductory course sequence – a year-long survey of the entire history of art – provides an introduction to the main periods and styles of art and to introduce students to various approaches to the study of art objects. We also offer a number of upper division period courses, which cover many of the major periods of art in fuller detail and which are designed to involve students more in research and writing about art. Finally we offer seminars on more specialized, often thematically-based – and frequently rotating – topics,; these seminars are designed to engage advanced art history students in more intensive analysis, reading and writing.

The study of art history prepares students primarily for careers as teachers of art history or for work in art galleries and museums. Generally students will need to pursue the MA, and often the PhD for employment in these fields. (We strongly encourage students interested in graduate work in art history to build up their skills in relevant foreign languages, especially German.) But art history majors have also found their skills needed as art appraisers and art conservators, in auction houses, as well as in arts organizations or business settings. Art history is also critical for studio art majors, since it helps them ground their own work within an artistic context and helps studio majors develop skills of communicating verbally about art (rather than simply relying on visual communication).

Art history is also of great interest to students in the fields of Anthropology, Architecture, English, History, World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and many area studies (European Studies, Gender Studies, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, African American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, etc.). Studies have shown that the skills of observation learned in art history have even benefitted students interested in becoming doctors or members of the police force. Plus, because art history is unique in its endeavor to understand experience as communicated through visual expression, it provides one of the best ways to learn how to write, think and speak clearly – skills that have applicability far beyond the fine arts. For these reasons we warmly welcome students from all backgrounds who are interested in the study of art history.