The art history curriculum provides both breadth and depth. Majors complete one studio art course plus 11 art history classes. Though students have some flexibility in completing the art history course requirements, all majors must complete at least two 100-level classes, at least five 200-level classes, at least one 300-level class, and the senior seminar (ARHS 480). Additionally, all students must meet the “time” and “place” requirements. This means completing at least one class that focuses on: Asia; the Middle East and Africa; and Europe and the Americas. Additionally, students must take at least one class that prioritizes art produced from: before 600; between 600 and 1800; and after 1800. See the curricular distribution checklist for more information on the path to graduation. To see which classes fulfill individual requirements, please see the course distribution sheet. The senior seminar is required of all majors and is recommended for the minors. Reading competence in a foreign language (completion of beginning-level language courses) is required by the college.
Six different introductory courses, as well as first-year seminars with rotating special topics, provide a broad overview of key subjects, questions, and methods in art history. Students can take introductory courses on African, Asian, Islamic, or Western art or the Survey of Architecture course. Fundamental art historical skills, such as formal analysis and iconographic interpretation, as well as college-level research and writing skills, are also taught in these classes. Two introductory courses are required for the major, and students may take up to three introductory courses for major credit.
Building on the foundational subjects, questions, and methods introduced in our 100-level courses, intermediate courses further focus students’ attention on a specific style, period, region, material, or thematic topic. Lectures and class discussions explore the relation of art and artists to society, to the history of events and ideas, and to networks of influence and exchange. Students engage a variety of art historical methodologies and theories to propose and execute research projects. Five intermediate courses are required for the major.
Topics of advanced seminars vary from year to year. They are more specific in scope and allow students the opportunity to research a particular topic in depth. The Senior Seminar serves as a capstone course in which students study the foundations of the discipline, explore the variety of methodological approaches employed by art historians, and assess the current theoretical issues that have redefined the field. Every major must take ARHS 480 + any ARHS 300 course, equaling two seminars. Students are welcome to take more than these two and can substitute one seminar for an intermediate course.
Studio Art Courses
Art history majors are required to complete one studio art course. In so doing, art history majors participate in creative activity to gain insight into the complex process of creativity as it demands intellectual acuity, manual dexterity, and emotional expression. See studio art courses in the catalog.
The Senior Capstone requires students to deliver a research-based oral presentation, complete with slides, followed by a question-and-answer session. This public event requires students to demonstrate their knowledge of a specific area of art history. Honors students use this exercise to highlight a specific component of their larger project.
Process for the Senior Capstone
Students identify a preliminary thesis topic during the fall of their senior year. This process requires the preparation of a research proposal that includes a (double-spaced) prospectus (approximately 1,000 words) outlining the goals of the project. This text must address which methodologies the student intends to use, the primary objects under investigation and how the project relates to current scholarship. This document also includes a bibliography and a list of courses (ARHS and otherwise) that have contributed to the proposal’s formation. It is expected, though not necessarily required, that the proposal has originated in a 200- or 300-level course.
Students submit their proposal to the department chair, who collects and distributes each document to the faculty. Faculty approve or reject each proposal based on whether the topic is reasonable in scope and clear in methodology. A student whose proposal is rejected must resubmit the document based on faculty recommendations. Students who receive faculty approval expand the project over the course of the fall semester and during winter break. Students are encouraged to consult with appropriate faculty to develop the project.
The Public Presentation
By fall break, the faculty announces a date for the public presentations, normally Saturday in mid-February. Each presentation is a 15-minute, conference-style presentation delivered to a public audience. Students are placed into thematic panels of three or four students each to facilitate a spirited discussion after each group of talks. These question-and-answer sessions last 10-15 minutes per panel. Honors students are required to participate with the same level of engagement as their peers. Faculty serve as moderators for each panel.
Evaluating the Presentations
Faculty evaluate each presentation based on the following criteria. A successful presentation must:
- Defend a clear, substantive thesis
- Effectively use appropriate evidence (primary and secondary sources)
- Show an awareness of current trends in the field
- Demonstrate a high level of preparedness (i.e., the talk does not exceed the time limit; slides are used strategically to support the thesis; questions are answered thoughtfully, etc.)
Faculty assign a score of high pass, pass or fail to each presentation based on these criteria. These scores are delivered to students in writing by the department chair. Students who demonstrate excellence in each of the criteria listed above may be awarded distinction. This designation requires a unanimous “high pass” evaluation from all permanent members of the art history faculty.
Students may fail the presentation if their talk is exceptionally short or shows an effort that is lacking; an obvious regurgitation of a previously delivered presentation that shows no development of the earlier thesis; characterized by obvious plagiarism; far beyond the scope of the original proposal; or clearly beyond the boundaries of art historical practice/methods.
Students who fail work with at least one art history faculty member — likely their advisor— to compose a research essay based on their original topic. That essay includes 12-15 pages of text plus notes, images and a bibliography. The deadline for this essay is 5 p.m. on the second Friday after the return from spring break. Faculty then read this essay and agree to either pass or fail the student. A student who fails a second time revises and re-submits the paper until it is deemed acceptable by the faculty.
For information on the Art History honors program, please see the college catalog.
Most art history majors and minors study off campus for all or part of their junior year. Students have studied in other cities in the United States — Washington, Chicago — in many European capitals — Rome, Paris, London — and throughout the world-in Africa and Asia. With the opportunity to view and study works of art first hand, off-campus study programs significantly enhance Kenyon's art history curriculum.
Students also have the opportunity to study abroad during the fall semesters as part of the Kenyon-Rome Program.
Visit the Center for Global Engagement to learn more about off-campus study opportunities.