Yale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field — and its varied cultural backgrounds — in one course.
Decades old and once taught by famous Yale professors like Vincent Scully, “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present” was once touted to be one of Yale College’s quintessential classes. But this change is the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western “canon” — a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.
This spring, the final rendition of the course will seek to question the idea of Western art itself — a marked difference from the course’s focus at its inception. Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.
“I believe that every object I discuss in [“Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present”] (with the possible exception of one truly ghastly painting by Renoir) is of profound cultural value,” Barringer said in an email to the News. “I want all Yale students (and all residents of New Haven who can enter our museums freely) to have access to and to feel confident analyzing and enjoying the core works of the western tradition. But I don’t mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places.”
Instead of this singular survey class, the Art History Department will soon offer a range of others, such as “Art and Politics,” “Global Craft,” “The Silk Road” and “Sacred Places.” Barringer added that in two or three years, his department will offer a substitute class to “Introduction to Art History.” But the new class “will be a course equal in status to the other 100-level courses, not the introduction to our discipline claiming to be the mainstream with everything else pushed to the margins,” Barringer said.
While concerns about the class’s singular focus in Western art has led to its cancellation, student enrollment in Barringer’s course skyrocketed this semester after the department’s plan was announced. Over 400 students shopped the class last week, though the course is capped at 300 due to constraints in the number of sections that the YUAG can host. full story