Why Study Art History?

Okay, so I’ll admit it. I asked myself the same thing before I took my first art history class. Now, however, I am a firm believer that even a mild interest in art history can benefit anyone. The field managed to wiggle itself into my heart and academic career. The following are reasons I realized studying art history is relevant, meaningful, and important.

1. Art history and traditional history are entwined

To understand traditional history (you know, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 kind of stuff) without looking at art history is to actually miss an entire facet of a time period. Art history and its context are inseparable. We now are able to understand entire ways of life from past civilizations because we were lucky enough to find their creations. Reactions to major events in history are abundant in the art field and often represent the reaction of a large group of people. Studying art history only creates stronger historians.

2. It makes you a better artist

By thinking critically about art in general, you learn to become critical about your own artwork. Looking at something and saying “That color palette doesn’t look right,” or, “That composition is all wrong,” makes you take a look at your palette and composition. On the other hand, when you see something created with what seems like pure genius and beauty, let that influence you and your work. Before I paint figures, I look at Edward Hopper’s figures. Before I paint landscapes, I look at Pierre Bonnard’s landscapes. I am not trying to duplicate their work, it just makes my art better.

 3. You become proficient at analyzing and observing

While studying art history, you become better at looking at things beyond your first impression. You start to analyze details and context. Perhaps you contemplate what the art is communicating. These are all valuable skills that can be applied to tasks and careers outside of the art field. Studying art history uses a part of the mind that is seldom exercised but can strengthen your cognitive ability.

4. Studying art history is just cool

It feels amazing going to a gallery and seeing a piece of art you have only had the disadvantage of looking at through textbooks and monitors. It feels like a relief to understand that art reference your smarty-pants friend made. Maybe you even want to be that smart-pants friend. You get to have an entire world within your mind full of amazing art. It feels like you are a part of an inside club when you know uncommon facts about major art. (Did you know the woman to the far left in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon was originally a man? Cool, right?)

Photo credit: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/mona-lisa-researchers-work-find-woman-behind-famous-painting-n93491

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