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The Mystery Behind Art History

The AP 250. Symbolism. The Classical Orders. Just a few terms splattered around among Christian Brothers’ AP Art History students, whose numbers have risen from eight two years ago, to 19 last year, and over 50 now. But what exactly is the new art history craze all about? As one of the 19 students from last […]

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The AP 250. Symbolism. The Classical Orders.

Just a few terms splattered around among Christian Brothers’ AP Art History students, whose numbers have risen from eight two years ago, to 19 last year, and over 50 now. But what exactly is the new art history craze all about?

As one of the 19 students from last year, I choose the class not only to fulfill my four-year arts requirement but also to learn more about art (and artists not famous enough to have a Ninja Turtle named after them).

My fellow classmate and fabulous artist Mary Claire Hancock (’17) states that she took the class because “[she’s] always enjoyed the arts in physical sense, but [she] wanted to learn about the history so [she] could feel well-versed in [her] craft.”

By the end of the class, she felt that “it helped [her] realize the history of what [she] was doing, which was really special.”

The class is based upon 250 images chosen by College Board that are seen as essential to the explanation of all the periods of art history. The images span from Global Prehistory (the very beginning of art) to Global Contemporary (the most modern art period).

The works range from ancient cave paintings to classical oil masterpieces to video installations.

But instead of just gazing at the pixelated beauty of Rodin sculptures and Monet paintings through Khan Academy on our iPads, the class takes multiple field trips to allow the art history group to “Gogh” deeper — to experience the emotion and witness the textured brush strokes and vibrant colors of various works.

Heading out to museums aids students in seeing the big picture of art history.

Course instructor Mrs. Donna Adam excitedly explains that “the goal of field trips is to have two — in the fall, to go the the Crocker to have a beginning experience of how to look at art in a museum, and [then] the spring field trip will be to summarize a year’s worth of learning by looking at works of art from around the globe with a more experienced eye.”

So not only are students given opportunities to experience some of the art they’re studying, they’re given an opportunity to purely experience the art for itself with no background knowledge and then another opportunity with full knowledge and understanding of different art periods and styles.

It allows students to assess their knowledge and their newfound understanding of the historical context and myths behind several different pieces from all around the globe.

“The field trips were very helpful because [they] took what I learned in the classroom and put it into a real-life perspective,” Mary Claire said.

She also mentions that “during the summer [she] went to New York and saw a bunch of art [she] studied, so it was awesome.”

The course gives students a unique opportunity to learn about and experience the expression of art throughout the ages and gives students a real chance to appreciate the colors on a canvas for their contribution to history.

But the class isn’t just about memorizing the artists behind the quarter of a thousand art pieces and each piece’s historical context.

“I hope [students] walk away from the class with a greater appreciation of art and what art is around the world,” Mrs. Adam says.

And that’s what is really special about AP Art History. It isn’t about memorizing and cramming so that everyone passes the AP exam — it’s about actually learning to appreciate art in all of its forms and seeing what the artist really wanted to show the world.

Passing the AP exam is just the frame around the masterpiece — but it’s a feat that 17 out of 19 of us did accomplish last year.

In fact, Mrs. Adam’s favorite part of teaching the course is “teaching students to learn how to open their eyes — looking at art and [then] going on the spring field trip and watching them have an ‘ah-ha’ moment of seeing a particular work of art.”

But why should you take the course?

“I think that any student, no matter their background — whether it’s art, history, English, or something else — should take [AP Art History] to globally learn that we are all similar cultures and societies and that art is the foundation for all this — to learn to appreciate beauty,” Mrs. Adam reflects.

Jacob Esquivel (’17) states that he took on the course because “art has always been an interest of [his], but [he] doesn’t have much artistic talent so [he] settles for just observing.”

“Art history sounded like a great class [because] we spend the year analyzing art from every walk of life,” he says.

And although Carley Jo Huntington (’17) is a fabulous artist already, she picked up the materials for the course because “[she] loves art and thinks it’s really important to keep traditions alive.”

She also wants to be able to share her knowledge with others, understand all the art in museums, and “to get a new understanding of what it means to be an artist.”

So whether you have prior knowledge of art or not, this class is a grand opportunity for anyone to learn how to truly appreciate the art of the greats.

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