Project Wellspring

Di Luo's Teaching Portfolio

World Art 01. Introduction

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What is art?

Broadly defined, art can be understood as a (principally visual) form of expression.

The various forms of art we study in this class include:

  • Buildings/architecture
  • Sculpture
  • Pictorial arts (painting, drawing, photography, printmaking)
  • Landscape art
  • Craft arts (ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, textiles, cabinetry, lacquerware, pottery)
  • Performance art/ritual

What is art history?

  • It is different from art appreciation which deals mainly with the visual and tactile attributes of an object (form, material, style, etc.); instead, art history is as much about history (context) as it is about art!
  • We are interested in art but perhaps more importantly the stories behind art–who made it, for what reasons,  what it meant to them, what it means to us, and so on.
  • It is different from history mainly due to its approach and methodology: we examine visual materials instead of texts.

How do we study art history?

  • First impressions

For beginners, it might be helpful to start with talking about how you “feel” about an artwork. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see it? (In this sense, looking at art can be much like poetry-reading; you rely on your “intuitions” as well as your logical thinking and reasoning. Even though you are not a-hundred-percent sure what the poem means, you get the general idea of it.)

  • Four-step strategy
    1. Visual description: how would you describe the artwork?
    2. Meaning/purpose: what particular message is the artwork meant to deliver? For whom or what occasions was it made?
    3. Context: what social, political, and cultural significance does the artwork bear?
    4. Idea: any transregional or cross-cultural concepts or “big ideas” associated with the artwork? (In this step, we transcend the historical context of the artwork and examine it in an even broader setting.)
  • Crime-scene mentality

Imagine you are a detective cracking a case. You need to learn to find the core question (e.g. is this murder or just an accident?), and you need to collect enough visual evidence or clues to help you answer your questions.

  • Be open-minded

Visual analysis plays a vital role, but the message delivered by art can often be ambiguous, shifting, and even contradictory to different audiences, and interpretations could be highly subjective. Hence, beyond basic facts, questions art historians ask do not necessarily have right or wrong answers but could be open-ended. (This applies to the definition of art.)

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This entry was posted on January 4, 2017 by in session and tagged , , , .
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