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  • National Art Education Association

    Teaching Art History: Getting StartedAuthor(s): John A. Stinespring and Brian D. SteeleSource: Art Education, Vol. 46, No. 2, Art History (Mar., 1993), pp. 7-13Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193370 .Accessed: 16/06/2014 10:05

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  • Teaching Art History: Getting Started John A. Stinespring and Brian D. Steele

    The introduction of 'The New Social Studies" in the late 1960s affected, in turn, ways in which history was taught. The new social studies emphasized identifying the methodology of practicing historians and social scientists in order to identify the basic structure of subjects. Rather than just reading the products of historical writing and trying to modernize them, students were taught to do history by using its methodology to analyze and interpret primary source material. Textbooks gener- ated during that time contrasted with traditional chronological narrative versions of history by including collections of primary source readings focused on a single event or period of time. Documents describing official versions of a Civil War battle issued by both the United States government and the government of the Confederacy were accompanied by diaries written by soldiers on both sides describ- ing their perceptions of the battle. Empha- sis was placed on students' employing a variety of skills such as drawing inferences and classifying data in the pursuit of student-generated conclusions and inter- pretations.

    The new social studies rather alarmed some traditional teachers who had doubts about the shift in emphasis from broad coverage to depth and who felt insecure about teaching the skills involved. How- ever, attention to what historians did effected a considerable change in the outlook of history teachers, textbooks, and students. History was no longer considered a static statement of truth but rather a dynamic process producing results that could be examined and reinterpreted even by students. It is logical, consequently, for this approach to history to influence ways that art history can be taught, even in a primarily studio context.

    Studio art is inherently activity-based. Studio-centered art teachers may not see art history as activity, but rather as informa- tion and consequently may perceive that art history can only be taught as their freshman survey most likely was taught. Nicknamed "art in the dark," this method involved primarily recitation of facts and

    interpretations handed down as if these matters were universal truths.

    Consequently, we are moved to share those many ways to "do" history with students that can assist teachers seeking to develop more effective art history teaching in their classrooms. In a purely studio-based class, a teacher needs to acquire a resource library for frequent reference, to inspire students to broaden their repertoire of ideas for projects and to see their art as part of a long tradition of art making.' Art teachers need to understand that they do not have to be expert art historians in order to provide effective art history instruction, or to deliver art history instruction with lectures. In fact, lecture has long ago been shown to produce poor results in retention of information and motivation, especially below the college level. Furthermore, lecture tends to make a teacher do all the work while the passive (and often bored and inattentive) students' brains remain idle.

    Teaching art history requires learning activities related to the actions of art historians. What do they do? Can we create developmentally appropriate meth-

    Students from John F. Kennedy High School, New York, visiting Nancy Spero's studio through The New Museum of Contemporary Art's High School Arts Education Program, Spring 1991. Photo credit: Zoya Kocur. Courtesy of The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY.

    Art Education/March 1993 7

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  • ods that are like the behavior of art histori- ans? Art historians themselves question art historical methods and the philosophies that underlie them. Since 1986, a section entitled "Views and Overviews" in the Art Bulletin has highlighted the state of re- search in specific areas: old and new methods used in examining Medieval art (Kessler, 1988; Sandier, Kessler, 1989), feminist theory (Gouma-Peterson & Mathews, 1987; Broude & Garrard, Gouma-Peterson & Mathews, 1989), psychoanalytic research (Spector, 1988), and color theory (Gage, 1990). In addition to the standard historical questions of who, what, where, and when, current art histori- cal practice often examines theoretical assumptions that govern investigation. Some techniques examine how a work of art is put together to create a meaningful structure. Others relate the work to the psychology of the artist. Still others may downplay chronology and even the idea of a work of art in favor of placing the work within the social context in which it origi- nated. Many scholars identify the contex- tual study of art as the American contribu- tion to art historical studies. The validity of such approaches provokes healthy criti- cism among art historians, and their application may be complex. Rather than explore more controversial methods, in this article we have chosen to examine tradi- tional techniques of investigation that can be adopted by instructors with minimal background in art history for the use of students at the secondary level.

    Chronology The favorite organizational structure of the

    'Ideally, the resources balance visual and textual information; they might include recent editions of two college-level survey texts, since their coverage varies: e.g., H. de la Croix (1991), H.W. Janson (1991), and/ or F. Hartt (1989); their bibliographies guide additions to period-based literature. The editors of Time-Life, Inc., periodically re-issue "The World of' series (e.g., The World of Giotto, The World of Rubens), wherein artists' lives, contemporaries, social situations are examined in a lively style that should interest secondary students. To extend factual coverage and supplement photographs at moderate cost, consider adding a publication such as the Larousse Encyclope- dia (1981); dictionaries perhaps offer fewer pictures, e.g., J. Vinson (1990) or B. S. Meyers (1969). Useful for reference to special topics are "companion" volumes, e.g., J. Hall (1979) and H. Osborne (1970). Many of the publishers named here also offer specialized selections on topics such as ancient mythology, religious iconography, female artists, and twentieth-century art.

    inexperienced or totally subject-centered (as opposed to student-centered) teacher is the concept of chronology. Presenting historical material in chronological order is a seductive procedure because it seems perfectly logical and implies a cause-and- effect relationship between events. Besides inaccurately suggesting that sequence necessarily has meaning, chronology can be easily mistaken to imply an underlying belief in continuous progress, with the modern era being the highest form of human achievement. Chronology is too weak a concept to dominate the organiza- tion of entire courses at the secondary level. On the other hand, history by defini- tion requires some temporal frame of reference, since art often manifests a combination of ideas, aspirations, subjects, and styles peculiar to a specific time and place. A few key dates place objects within a global time frame and establish a basic chronology. For example, an approximate date of c. 450 B.C. (or even 500 B.C.) for Greek art is sufficient to place art within a culture that may be studied in other classes for its literature, drama, or political sys- tems. Chronology becomes more important when it illuminates a development within a specific culture, or in cases in which a culture borrows from another, but here also, dates can be simplified to present a broad chronology as a foundation upon which students can build: 550 B.C., 450 B.C., 300 B.C., and 100 A.D. present a useful sequence for Greek Archaic, Greek Classical, Greek Hellenistic, and Roman art (respectively) that illustrates both the development of ideas in Greece and the point at which a new political power used those ideas. These dates require memori- zation, but they provide basic reference points.

    Chronology is most important when it demonstrates specific causal relationships, such as the impact of photography on Manet's composition. Students might make time lines to use for reference during the rest of the course. A time line that links art with historical events helps place the individual object within the context of politic

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