One of the cornerstones of the liberal arts experience, the discipline of art history allows not only an examination of visual culture, but is also a conduit to the study of many other disciplines. Art history provides a broad forum for the study of culture. Through formal analysis, iconographic study, and contextual investigation, art historians refine the understanding of an object's meaning by locating it in the historical moment of its production, defining its function, establishing the contemporary aesthetic standards by which it was judged, and reconstructing the critical response of its various audiences. Through such a thorough analysis, we do not deny the object its power, aesthetic or otherwise, but make meaning evident by determining what it is that constitutes its authority to a particular audience.
In art historical training, students acquire a visual literacy that when applied to analytic thinking produces a profound understanding of culture. Art historians provide students with the skills to interpret a wide array of ideas — religious, political, social, scientific, and literary — presented in visual form. In so doing, we encourage our students to study original works of art. Moreover, we present students with technical knowledge concerning the processes of artistic production, collection, and display. As we live in an increasingly visual world, students learn the skills necessary for an historical appraisal of the past, and most importantly, a critical evaluation of the present.
Art history forms the bridge between studio practice and a liberal arts curriculum. In studio art classes, art history students participate in the creative process in a direct manner and gain insight into the complex process of creativity as it demands intellectual acuity, manual dexterity, and emotional expression. As historians, critics, and producers, art history students, therefore, are prepared to engage the world of visual culture in a multitude of ways.
In addition to these general pedagogical goals, art history majors should:
Evidence of student learning goals will be measured in the following ways:
In our first January departmental meeting, we discuss outcomes from research papers in ARTH 480, the Senior Seminar (taught in the Fall semester). These papers are assessed to evaluate our students’ ability to undertake advanced research, including the use of primary sources when appropriate. Research papers are also assessed according to the criteria for effective written communication, and methodological rigor in the formulation and successful demonstration of a thesis.
Students take their Senior Capstone in late February, and we meet as a department each March to evaluate student performance on all three parts. In this meeting, we will discuss how well students have met departmental goals. Our first evaluation will be based on the quantifiable portion of the Senior Capstone, addressing how successfully our students have met pedagogical goals regarding identification of visual images from the four broad areas taught in our curriculum. Since art history majors are required to take courses from each of these four broad areas, this instrument measures whether or not students have synthesized a fundamental facet of their art historical learning. It addresses a pedagogical and a curricular question: 1) Are we emphasizing this type of learning sufficiently in all our courses? 2) Are we offering a sufficient number of courses each semester in each of these areas?
The second part of our assessment focuses on the general essay question, testing students for their comprehensive grasp of the four required curricular areas of study. Since this section is not quantifiable, all full-time faculty members evaluate all of the essays independently before discussing them collectively. General essays must meet three fundamental criteria: to demonstrate an understanding of art historical chronology from ancient to modern, to cite specific works of art accurately, and to place those works of art appropriately in a cultural/historical context.
Part three of our assessment focuses on the period essay. Students must demonstrate a solid grasp of a specific area of study, chosen from one of the four required areas of the curriculum. Asian art is added here as a fifth choice. (It is not included within the required areas because we do not have the resources to support it fully in the curriculum.) Evaluation criteria are determined according to the specific area of expertise taught by faculty members; each student essay must demonstrate a grasp of the issue presented within the area of study.
Students must demonstrate a mastery of all three parts of the Senior Capstone. Outcomes from all three parts should inform curricular needs and future pedagogical emphases. At the March meeting, after discussing the Senior Capstone outcomes, we also have a broader discussion of students’ strengths and weaknesses in their understanding of art historical methodology and theory, and how we might modify the Senior Seminar and/or the Senior Capstone to address concerns. We have decided to supplement this discussion every year by providing students an opportunity to discuss curriculum and pedagogy in an exit interview.