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Art History

Topics and Ideas in Art History

The study of art history at Hampshire involves the analysis, criticism, and investigation of the visual arts from a wide range of perspectives. Our courses cover the history of painting, prints, photography, sculpture, architecture, and design, often studied in terms of topics and ideas rather than stylistic periods, with an emphasis on depth of inquiry. Our explorations are not characterized by any single methodological approach-on the contrary, we share a commitment to the rigorous investigation of works as material artifacts and to theoretically sophisticated historical analyses from a wide variety of viewpoints. We consider all forms of visual culture to be worthy of analysis (from the ephemeral to the monumental) and consider all objects for their intrinsic properties and as visual evidence. Individual works are considered for their formal complexity in order to make critical hypotheses; those conclusions are then used to make connections to a diversity of kinds of histories-the specific social, political, economic, religious, philosophical, and cultural circumstances that shape the making and the reception of works of art.

Studying Art History

Our position in the Five Colleges allows us to use the many local museums and galleries as our laboratories, and courses are sometimes designed in conjunction with museum exhibitions. Art history is a fundamental area of inquiry in the humanities and cultural studies at Hampshire, by its very nature strongly interdisciplinary, and at Hampshire students have created concentrations which relate art history to curatorial studies, sociology, critical theory, urban studies, memory studies, religion, history, and literature. Often students fuse their art historical studies with work in the arts (music, dance, painting, book arts, sculpture, performance art, creative writing, and architecture). Our students go on to careers in museums, galleries, architecture firms, auction houses, publishing, teaching, and to advanced degree programs in art history and visual and critical studies.

In a world that is increasingly dominated by visual expression, understanding the vocabulary and operations of the visual arts has become increasingly vital. Our emphasis on learning techniques for analyzing visual materials and locating them within time and place has consequences that extend beyond historical constructions. The historical study of the visual arts proposes that by looking into the past, we are encouraged to view the present with new outlooks that encourage a meaningful scrutiny of the present-including the relationship of visual culture to moments of conflict and transformation.


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Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies
Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002
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