The history of art is different from other historical disciplines in that it is founded on direct visual confrontation with objects that are both concretely present and yet documents of the past. We emphasize analysis of images, objects, built environments, and descriptions of the visual arts in literature and philosophy as the basis for critical thought and visual literacy. In addition to formal and iconographic analysis, we use the work of other disciplines to understand visual images, such as social history, perceptual psychology, engineering, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and archaeology. Because of its concentration on visual experience, the Art History major increases one’s ability to observe and to use those observations as analytical tools for understanding history and culture.
The Art History major requires a minimum of nine courses:
- Any three of the following four courses: ARTH 101, ARTH 102, ARTH 103, and ARTH 104
- Any ARTS (studio) course
- One course in art history concerned with a period prior to 1800
- One course in art history concerned with a period post 1800
- ARTH 301: Methods of Art History
- One 400-level seminar or 500-level graduate seminar (in addition this course may be used to satisfy the pre-1800 or post-1800 requirement)
- One additional course, at any level.
ARTH 101, 102, 103 and 104 introduce students to a series of important works selected from the history of European, North American, African, and Asian art from prehistory to the present. The 100-level courses introduce formal analysis and the study of artworks within their historical, geographical, and religious or secular contexts. The introductory courses often include assigned study of original works in the Williams College Museum of Art, Chapin Library, the Clark Art Institute, and MASS MoCA.
Art history majors are advised to take the one required studio art course early in their major in order to help build their visual understanding of works in two, three or four dimensions.
The 200- and 300-level classes in art history offer more focused introductions to the arts of specific cultures, areas, and time periods, and to specific methodological points of view. These offerings often serve to fulfill the requirements for courses pre- or post-1800.
ARTH 301, a course on the methodology and history of the discipline of art history, develops awareness of the theoretical implications, as well as the possibilities and limitations, of different art-historical methods.
The 400- or 500-level seminar allows a student to engage deeply in research on a topic in the specific area of the seminar, and encourages the development of the art history major’s critical thinking about artworks, prior scholarship, and museum display in order to create an original thesis for a seminar project.