I don’t know why, but whenever I think of the history of art my mind goes back just about a thousand years. However, we all know that humans have been making art for tens of thousands of years. We’ve discovered things like cave paintings in addition to the Pyramids and the Parthenon that can be considered from an artistic as well as an archeological perspective. And even periods of more “modern” art, like the Renaissance, had to draw their inspiration from something that came before. Add to the mix a world full of art traditions and trying to delve into a topic as broad as “the history of art” seems impossible. Fortunately, with an interested mind and great instructor, we can begin to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Yesterday I was able to sit in on a lecture series titled, Introduction to Western Art: From Cave to Constantine which began to give me some background on those few thousand years of art history I was mentally missing.
Even before the class started I noticed some unique things about this class. First, the auditorium in the Ripley center was almost full, impressive for a weekday lunch time class. People were genuinely excited to be there and I overheard many discussing topics covered in previous classes as well as different art styles and comparisons between them. Then our instructor, Professor Renee Gondek of George Washington University, began lecturing. As anyone who’s ever been in school can tell you, a teacher can “make or break” a class no matter how interesting or boring the subject matter may be. Professor Gondek definitely “makes” this class. She combines her true professional knowledge with humor and teaches in a way the reaches people with different learning styles. While this was a class about art, she was also able to relate it to the non-art history of the time period but even more importantly was able to explain how the art reflected history and how history influenced the art.
The topic of yesterday’s class was Archaic and Classical Greece. We learned about a wide range of art forms from Kouros/Kore statues, pottery (especially Greek vases), and temples and architecture as art. I don’t want to recite what Professor Gondek covered, but instead would like to point out some themes and parallels between art and history she revealed. First, art can teach us about the social stratification of a particular culture. For example, a golden brassiere and other riches signifying great wealth found at a burial site showed us that even 12,000 years ago class systems had started to develop. We learned that a system of mythology began when we were shown examples of Minotaur figurines. We discovered how a Greek temple could be seen as a work of art, place of religion or piece of history, but that when we consider the three together it gives us much more insight into the Ancient Greeks. Many of the most recognizable works of sculpture from this period served as inspiration for future works of art worldwide. Professor Gondek ended today’s installment by giving us a glimpse of the ways Ancient Greeks began their shift towards a more modern style.
This class is part of our Certificate Program in World Art History program which we encourage you to explore. However, you do not have to be enrolled in this certificate program to take one or more of these classes. A list of upcoming art history courses can be seen here. Whether you’re an art history wiz or just a novice who wants to learn about a particular style, there is something here for you.