Why You Don’t Like Art History

[THEME MUSIC] Art history can be deadly. If it’s happened to you, you
know what I’m talking about– a dark room, an
endless succession of flat images on a
screen, names, and dates, and movements, and napping. If you’ve had a great art
history class, I’m so glad. And if you’ve had a
single art history class, well, it’s maybe
better than none. I’m thinking about
this because I’ve been watching the new series
“Civilizations,” which takes a wide view in
talking about the beginnings of human creativity
and its development in many different
parts of the world. It’s a follow-up to a
series the BBC aired in 1969 called “Civilization,” singular,
where art historian Kenneth Clark outlined a personal and
very Eurocentric account of, quote, “the great
works of Western man.” He wasn’t telling the history of
art per se, but what he called, quote, “all the life
giving human activities we lump under the
term civilization.” Barbarism was, in his
view, the opposite of civilization and nearly
wiped out civilization entirely. But he does clarify
that great works of art can be produced in
barbarous society. Now, this is problematic
from a number of angles and was even
old-fashioned at the time. But people loved it, in
Europe and in the US. They felt empowered to
understand cultural history, had watching parties,
and bought the book. Afterward, there was even an
uptick in cultural tourism. 50 years later come
“Civilizations,” in which three art
historians attempt a much more global history
of human artistic production, starting with the
first human marks we’ve discovered in caves,
and skipping around the world, through history and up to today. It’s a lot to cover. But rather than promoting
an understanding of “civilization” fighting
to hold barbarians at bay, the new series emphasizes
how cultures around the world have influenced each
other, constantly evolving, and borrowing,
and exchanging ideas. They added extra “s”
to the Renaissance as well, telling us of
the flourishing of art in areas other than Italy. We’re told of Rembrandt’s
interest in Mughal art and its impact on
his work stemming from the Dutch East
India Company’s trade between the
Netherlands and India. There is a tendency
in art history to tell the story of influence
moving in one direction. But here, we see the
tides flowing both ways, weaving a much more
complicated tale. This shift from civilization
to civilizations reflects a wider transformation
in the way art history and history in
general is taught. Now you can take classes
not only about art history, but classes about how
we teach art history, or methodology, a word I
hoped I’d never say publicly. These days, there’s
a wider acceptance that any one topic
can be approached from a variety of directions. Like you can look
at a work of art formally, analyzing
only what you can see– color, line,
composition, et cetera. You can read a work
iconographically, recognizing the symbols
it might contain and what those symbols meant
when the work was created. You can take a
biographical approach, researching the story and
intentions of the person or people who made it. Or you can use a
whole swath of what are called critical theories to
better understand your subject, like psychoanalytic theories
seeking out the subconscious drives that might
be at play in a work or Marxist theory looking at the
economic and social conditions that inform the work. Postcolonial theory, you’ll
be surprised to learn, seeks to understand a
work through the colonial or imperial forces that
might have shaped it. The new “Civilizations” doesn’t
shy away from these readings, pointing out European artists’
interest in Islamic culture as a source of the exotic, often
concocting scenes and history as whole cloth, fantasies,
propagating stereotypes rather than reflecting
anything based in reality. We can also look at the ways
race, gender, and sexualities have and have not been
represented in art and how whole
categories of people have been excluded
from our history books or were prevented from
making work and showing it in the first place. These are just a few
of the many lenses you can use to look at art
deploying one or many of them to inform your
understanding of a thing. Not to complicate
the matter further, but what even is
art to begin with? You’ll note “Civilizations”
sidesteps the question by using their amorphous
but now more inclusive term. There is art, anthropology,
architecture, design, visual culture, material
culture, thing theory. We use these terms
to talk about all of the stuff, and
environments, and experiences that humans have made,
understanding that none of them is sufficient on its own. But for all of the nuance
we’ve added to the study of art at the upper levels,
very little has changed in our introductions to art. What’s most often communicated
is a linear narrative of cultures and
movements, at least in America, focusing
on the, yes, significant contributions
of ancient Greece and Rome, the Italian Renaissance,
perhaps touching on a few non-Western
parts of the world. In general, we’re told a story
of advancement and progress from one school of
art to the next. Impressionism, to
Neo-Impressionism, to Post-Impressionism–
ism begetting ism, as if the creation of art is
a single timeline rather than a vast confusing web. The art of the last
50 years and of today is either left out or
smushed into the final 15 minutes of the last class. Complication and
nuance are reserved for higher-level courses
where, if you get there, you’ll steadily pick apart the
narrative you were originally presented within
your introduction. The more linear version
of history you first learn may have been easier to
memorize and promptly forget. But it recklessly
sacrifices so much in its efforts to
simplify and smooth over. It also tends to gloss over
the important factor of you in the story of art
and use of the past. By this I mean how artworks have
been interpreted historically and in the present, and the
biases inevitable in whomever is telling the story. Kenneth Clark’s “Civilization”
was flawed, for sure. But he was very
effective in sharing with others what it is he loved
about art, and architecture, and philosophy. Just a few years later,
one of my personal heroes, John Berger, came out with
a BBC series of his own called “Ways of Seeing,” which
he also adapted into a book. Rather than attempt any
sort of overview of art, he sought instead
to teach us how to look at things in
the world in a critical but altogether regulatory way. Seek it out and watch it. I have chosen to
teach art history through this show in my own
particular and flawed way. It’s inefficient
and scattershot, jumping around in
time and space, bringing up stories
of art from the past as they relate to the present. I privilege the
things I happened to learn about in my
American schools and career. I use the term art
in a broad way, trying not to give it
boundaries, but instead let it be a shapeless,
nebulous catch-all. Every way we talk about art, or
whatever you want to call it, is flawed, and
incomplete, and biased. But it’s a matter of which
flawed, and incomplete, and biased way or ways
we pay attention to. I would argue that you
don’t like art history because the stories
you learn usually don’t bear any
resemblance to the world as you experience it, which
is messy, and complicated, and hard to make sense of. With hindsight, we’re able to
craft totalizing narratives which are helpful when the AP
College Board tries to test your mastery of a subject. But those narratives
are ultimately unhelpful in getting you to like
art, in teaching you how to see and how to be a
critical thinker. Maybe the goal is
to absorb as many of the flawed, incomplete, and
biased histories as we can, appreciating what is
there, what’s missing, and who’s telling it,
and to let ourselves live with a chaotic,
asynchronous story of art, allowing for diversity, and
difference, and change, which is ultimately a more
accurate and more compelling representation of the
fullness of the world. If you’re interested
in absorbing a tremendous amount of art,
and architecture, and history, you should check out
“Civilizations,” the new series produced by PBS and the BBC
that tells the story of art from the dawn of human
history to the present day. It’s a rigorous, and thoughtful,
and mind-expanding look at how art and creativity
helped forge our societies and cultures. Click the links in
the description below to find out more. Many thanks to Indianapolis
Homes Realty and all of our patrons for supporting
the Art Assignment. If you like our show, subscribe. And if you’d like
to support our show, head over to
patreon.com/artassignment. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Comments 76

  • What you say at 4:25 into 4:40 reminds me of polarities, your work here in this video specifically and the work of PBS Idea Channel. Not that one is less than another, but the representation here focuses on more formal and higher level renderings of art and art history, where PBS Idea Channel focuses on the more common, even low brow, yet democratic influences of art making and culture in art. I love both together as a well rounded picture of art, culture and art history. Super Rad! Thoughts?

  • I like art history

  • Apparently Civilisatuons in USA was massively edited/redacted, so maybe try using a VPN to access it via the BBC iplayer.

  • I luv u

  • I love art…that's it. Well, I am not an artist, not an art historian, not even a part of any creative or art-related industry or field of work. I am really loving art since I was a young child, but it was science that was my first love as I love to organize, ask questions, compare, and observe as well as learning about nature is also fun. I am joining science quiz bees as well as art competitions in school level to division level those times. It all changed in high school, when I started to have classes that teaches less art lessons but integrates art in all of learning. We do role plays, skits, video presentations, song numbers, dance presentations, short films, write poems and stories, write essays, and do creative and artistic projects. I just saw and witnessed how the sciences and the arts are all important and interconnected in my life. I started to love visual arts especially drawing and painting, but I also love theater, film, and literature as well as music. Learning visual arts and films brought me to shapes in geometry, patterns in nature and biology, chemistry of materials used in art, learning about colors and both its uses in art as well as its physical properties which lead me to study more on lights and optics, music brought me to acoustics and sounds, visual art also brought me to visual perception and communication then to psychology, literature brought me to cultures and languages as well as linguistics, theater brought me to integration of all arts skills and to the study of art history and history in general, the development of human creativity with art and technology, arts also brought me to the study of humans and cultures, to anthropology, to sociology, to geography, to earth sciences, then to space sciences. Art opened doors for me to learn more and see connections of art to sciences and humanities and to my life and others life. It brought me to more deep studies like aesthetics and other philosophies, to understanding contexts, intentions, traditions, biases, differences, similarities, interactions, integrations, and others of ideas, thoughts, experiences, creativity, and innovations in the modern world. Art opened my eyes to see it as not just for it's sake but with practical uses in the fields of applied and decorative arts, to things such as catharsis, to emotions, to personalities, to art as used in post-traumatic therapies and as tools for dealing with our psyche, our anxieties, our sadness, to disorders and depression and other mental and physical health conditions. So, whether I study art in linear historical way or through different lenses and see its flaws and biases and how it interacts in the modern world with other fields, or how it matters or not matters to me and the people around me, is not a big deal for me to study art. As long as it is about art, count me in.
    I really want to take a degree or major in fine arts as I want to develop my skills in art production like in drawing and painting, but I also am interested in other art fields and to art history as well, and this gives me a hard time to choose a particular field. Plus, my hometown is not interested in arts I guess, because there are no art degrees offered in any colleges and universities in here, which makes me even sadder and bit depressive just thinking about it.
    I still love science (natural), and the social sciences too, and I also love other humanities fields, but nothing can beat art right now in my mind and my heart. For me, art is so beautiful to think, to feel and experience, to witness, to observe, to study, to practice and do, and to just wonder and be in awe about how humans think and the ideas we have, the questions, the experiences, and the conditions of us as individuals and as an interconnected whole through time and through different perspectives.

  • Everything about art and society…..count me in. I love art and there are reasons for doing so. Some are reasonable and makes sense while some reasons are just confusing and unexplainable that made me love art so much. It's just that it's fascinating to understand human culture, society, mind, and creativity through art.

  • felt too much like an advertisement.

  • I love this woman

  • I was a a History/Art History major. I have to say, my Art History degree was SOOOOO much easier than my standard History degree. Even so, I spent many a sleepless night remember names, movements, etc. lol

  • First channel on youtube I've ever binge-watched (thats a good thing.) Thank you

  • I'm majoring in Visual Studies and one of my favorite courses I've taken so far was Methods of Art History. Every class was spent with a new method and applying different theories to art history (pretty much all the ones you named). The classes at my university are small (often less than 15 people) and extremely discussion heavy so I left every class just completely mentally exhausted from trying to wrap my head around what we were talking about that day. It was a great to be that intellectually challenged and it really changed the way I approach art history.

  • I took multiple art history courses in a darken room with slides enlarged on a screen, over thirty years ago. It the time when I was young and stupid I had the same attitude about the way art history was taught. I look back now and see how valuable those courses were in shaping my attitude towards what art is and what has survived. It opened up my mind to what could be. And why do they only spend a little time on contemporary? The editing of time has not weeded out the significants what's truly important. American society is still acting young and frisky while in reality is a diseased old pup that should be put down. Don't believe me? Take a look at what most Americans do by choice: sit in a darken room and watch flat images of art(?) NO, they have all their perspectives manipulated of what the world is in a darken room watching the TV. Art history has taught me one thing for certain, America is on the decline. TV and the automobile are the most significant accomplishments. Both will disappear.

  • Perhaps the art of the last fifty year is left out or smushed into the last fifteen minutes of class in AP or survey classes, but in my experience classes spend too much time talking about the content of the last hundred years instead of looking at how the effects of the previous five hundred year led to the last hundred. Content is king but context is queen.

    Therefore, while I commend your encouragement of John Berger's criticism and admitting to your own faults (though a somewhat skirt at an admittance), I censure your complete brush under the rug of Kenneth Clark and his criticism especially when he doesn't put on the all knowing facade of art history some accuse him of (unlike others) and even titles his series IN FULL, "CIVILIZATION: A PERSONAL VIEW" WHICH YOU SEEM TO CONVENIENTLY FORGET. It is important to look at the original criticism that will eventually be critiqued even if you personally don't agree with. Anyway give him a shout out too. And why not Robert Hughes for a view of the last hundred years if students need that.

    Anyway, on your final notes, yes many understandings and critique are flawed and biased. Many, if not most, know this. But I think it should be noted that some are more flawed than others, even in academia. But is important to strive towards a critical understanding rather than simply let everything in.


  • Just like That book written by Julian Bell, Mirror of the world a new art history.

  • I liked it, but I like history, so…

  • I'm Asian, I go to school in France and what bugs me the most is how some professors just skip over non-European art because they "don't know much about it", but won't research it even they get questions every year and they have access to plenty of resources
    It's unbearable how they scoff when I (gently) correct them on pronunciation and they don't even try to correct themselves, but they feel obligated to correct me everytime I mispronounce "Van Gogh"
    There are good and bad teachers everywhere, but I feel like boring and old school teachers get priviledged in higher education where as passionate and 'fun' teachers are deemed less professional

  • I love all forms of history, so I thought that video isn't for me. However, I am glad I watched it. I am equally glad I found this channel. Please keep up the good work.

  • Really nice video :)))))

  • Ok so, as somebody not fomr the US or the UK, how to watch that series?

  • I think the same thing should also apply to philosophy education.

  • I really love this show. Thank you for what you all do.

  • Thanks. Great stuff!

  • I literally developed an interest in art history 2 days ago. I'm not sure where it came from but I just stumbled on this video from researching museum curators. I am so glad I found this. I've never seen this much passion in anyone. I'm absolutely moved by your dedication to not only art history but to inclusiveness. I love this so much. Thank you for posting this.

  • At the moment I’m taking Ap art history but I want to change it so this is funny lol

  • Memorizing slides is the single least compelling academic experience in the world.

  • To be honest this is my first ever comment on youtube on any video. I love watching the art assignments videos. But they are too short and too quick. Youtube is what has replaced tv channels for me. And i miss how i used to wait for an episode of gamertv that came once every week. I would love to see a full fledged episode.

  • I love art history

  • love the video! im more of a musicologist, but very similar things apply to my field. i feel like too many people are trying their best to look for quantifiable meaning when there really is no such thing, as all kinds of art are extremely subjective and your judgement of a piece of art depends heavily on what perspective you view it from. in art there is no such thing as objective truth and people should stop trying to make that happen lol.

  • Dude, i was hesitant to give this channel my viewership BECAUSE it was about Art History… But each video was dipped with a subtle coating of self-referential humor (meta-humor?) and the delivery was also palatable. I subscribe to more PBS backed channels than any other.

  • The biographical approach serves no purpose to analyzing a work of art, if you are following Barthes' point of view (which is the best tbh)

  • Can I download anywhere the art history map you use in your video?

  • I just like history, be it of art or war, or the art of war. At least I like art history until we get to the past hundred years. In the art history class I had to take freshman year of college helped me finally understand art in the last hundred years. The conclusion I came to was that around the early 1900s, artists ran out of styles to change, so they set about trying to find a style that would cause me the most annoyance, all the while making up meaning as an after thought so that they could convince people to display it in places I would be forced to see it. I have tried and tried and tried, but I cannot accept a canvas covered in an even layer of a single color of paint as art. It has no meaning, conveys no more feeling than basic color phsychology that I'm hit with any time I look at anything.

  • I have found studying Art Theft the most fascinating way to learn Art History.

  • But…
    I don't wanna have to sit down for an hour to learn what kind of rocks they used to make piramids…


  • I can tell you why I don't like Art History. My dad is a very sucessful art historian.

  • My first major in college was Art, which included Art History. After a year, I switched my major to Business (Accounting was actually my favorite class, I thought it was fun!). Art is a passion of mine, but I couldn't force myself to enjoy Art in school.

  • How do you tell a non-linear story, ive found i enjoy non-linear things much more and dont really think in a straight line, so even aside from art history how would you put such a complex web onto a linear medium like writing? Or what else might you do, visual diagrams are often usefull but this is history not exactly a geometric system.

  • You're my John Berger <3

  • Sorry to hear about your admiration for John Berger, a self-important salesman of other people's ideas, better expressed by themselves.

  • I actually don't pay attention as much to dates and such so much as the art and artist themselves. Though I can see how the format turns people away.

  • Good video. Thank you.

  • I love Art HIstory & I will be a BIG PART OF IT in 2019 .Joseph Charles Colin

  • Having an “expert” stand in front of a painting and expound on what the painting and the elements in the painting are supposed to convey, that’s why I hate art history.

  • Because its mostly Bullshit …

  • I was looking through the videos and this title made me go "Whaat??" so of course I clicked it. I took a small number of art history courses on the side/minor in university of Helsinki and seriously, it wasn't boring at all, and all those things said about "civilizations" are already being implemented in the introductory courses… I'm honestly kind of shocked apparently so many think art history classes are dreadfully boring? But maybe I just got lucky. :'-D

  • There is only a linear story to art because we look back, looking for connections. Creating that narrative is an art too.

  • I guess I got lucky with good professors because I enjoyed all of my art history classes. We skipped class one day and went to the MoMa with my Modern Art History class. My professor, another student, and I wound up meeting up at one point and I walked around with them and it was such a great time walking through the museum with someone so knowledgeable. Also! When you put up the picture of Loren Munk's work it looked very familiar so I went back through my collection of books given out at my school's gallery openings and sure enough, he was a featured artist one year. So I actually got to hear him speak about his own work that day.

  • Hey just saying i love love love all your videos! Also best way to learn in my (2nd year design school opinion (with 4 art history classes under my belt…well after tomorrow’s final)) is fighting and having a argument- it forces you to think about all problems and holes- and you recall,what you remember rather than memorizing- yea this may sound like a essay- but I hate hate hate writing them. The discussion is the best part

  • Only if she taught my art history class😍😍😍😍

  • But I do like art history

  • i have always loved art history so much that ive studied it on my own. i love understanding how art progressed, how certain artists were influenced by other artists, what the major themes were in art movements and how they were reactions to the progression of civilization..

  • Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism By Theodore A. Harris 
    Thesentür: Conscientious Objector to Formalism is a series of minimal, image and quotation based works that uses poetry to confront mainstream art criticism, art history, to look beneath the surface politics of aesthetics and formalism in a presentation of art that is not self-referential or to put a Black face on the art history of imperialism.Formalism functions as the cosmetics of art criticism like aluminum siding on a slumlord’s property. It is an attempt to disguise what is crumbling beneath the surface politics of its proselytizing church bells,ringing, in the mega church / museums and galleries where there are more Black bodies guarding the white cube then exhibiting in it.What marginalized artist know is that canon formation is a battlefield and critical art is the weapon! In the crossed out words of Basquiat to repel ghosts.

  • deadly for sure !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! unless it is led by personal investigation ……

  • Who says I don't?

  • 3:45 "rather than reflecting anything in reality?" – Maybe it depicts Ibrahim of the Ottoman Empire? So it is based in reality? It is said that he had a harem of women around him. Love your content!

  • I feel like a lot of art history classes are very eurocentric in general.

  • Do you have good books/resources for "new" ways of teaching art history/appreciation? I'd appreciate any guidance for this–I'd like to shift my teaching style.

  • do yall want an intern :")

  • Art history is fun. Art theory is what made me want to go all stabby. Like a hall of mirrors inhabited only by jargon.

  • Love it. Yes everything interact and inter influence each other music art architecture I really hope someone can narrate that

    Yes link it to real life is important

  • The way art (then art history) is taught in US schools was flawed since when I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s. Even when my youngest child was in kindergarten in the 1980s, art instruction was flawed. I remember being infuriated when his "teacher" gave him a "sad face" on his art assignment of coloring a picture of a boy with green hair. I was so upset that I met with the teacher, asking her "have you been to a mall lately and seen green, purple and yellow hair on teens?!!"

  • Art History is about perspective, not facts.

  • Like humans itself, we are growing constantly, changing and grow.

  • You kinda look and sound like my history teacher (just the voice though, she doesn’t speak English). Coincidence? Yeah probably

  • The new series is sooooo good.

  • Absolute goals for me, this video!

  • I love art history but I never attended school.

  • Thus is such an amazing channel! Art history always inspires me! 😉 https://youtu.be/zsEem9_xRuE

  • Had a class that claimed to teach art history of the world. OMG! The world was sooooooooooó small. Book weighed a ton but only 19% covered art outside the western.

    That's what woke me to the narrow horse blinder mentality that extended not just to social sciences but also the so-called hard sciences. If someone's reference for seeing a plane for the first time was a bird, then whoever wrote those books had no reference for seeing beyond the Canterbury Tales..

  • PS in 1968 apparently it was assumed that there were no contemporary artists outside of Europe or certain parts if the Americas, and Egypt somehow wasn't on the African continent.

  • Hey .. can you plzz help me out find the conceptual art history.. and how to early art movement use concept and cantent

  • #subscribed

  • At 1:40. The place is Kolkata, not Delhi. There's a locality in Kolkata, known as 'Kumartuli' where these clay idols are made. It's a very interesting place, where tiny clumsy alleys house the 'studios' where immense clay idols are made.

  • John Cleese: I'm the Pope I bloody am! I may not know art, but I know what I like!

  • This channel made me love art history. Thank you

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