25 Jan 2020

Yale Kills Renowned Art History Survey Course

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Jan Matejko, Stanczyk during a Ball at the Court of Queen Bona after the Loss of Smolensk, 1862.

July 1514: Stanczyk, the famous jester of Sigismund the Old, was renowned for his cynical humor, but Matejko shows the jester in a private moment of despair in a palace anteroom outside the royal ball being given by Queen Bona Sforza. On the table next to the jester, we see dispatches announcing the fall of Smolensk to the Muscovites. Alone among the denizens of Poland’s royal court, only Stanczyk the jester forsees with dread the rise of Moscow and the destruction of the Commonwealth.

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If Stanczyk were employed as jester these days at Yale Universuty in New Haven, Connecticut, he’d probably looked similarly after reading this Yale Daily News story.

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.

RTWT

It’s essential, you see, to flatter the amour propre of representatives of Identity Victim Groups (specially recruited and affirmatively actioned into Yale) by assuring them that the crude carvings of devils and bogeys their Stone Age ancestors turned out are the equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

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4 Feedbacks on "Yale Kills Renowned Art History Survey Course"

SteveS

Would it be rude to point out that Elihu Yale, namesake of Yale University, was a white dude?

As for “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present”, there are some very nice cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Seems a shame to ignore them if you are doing a history of art, although “Intro to Art History: 200,000 BC to the Present” might be a lot to cram into one semester.



Seattle Sam

Having taken that course, I definitely feel cheated that Professor Scully did not instruct us as to how this all relates to climate change.



David Nix

I have many, many regrets from my Bright College Years (that adolescent flirtation with conservatism, for example), but near the top of the list is failing to take Scully’s courses on the history of art and architecture.



JK Brown

When you can get a much better perfected course for a hundredth of the price from places like “Great Courses”, etc., the question is why waste expensive tuition dollars to get it improv from a bored professor?



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