Learning Art History through Interpretation and Investigation

Article excerpt

Art history is essential to the learning of art. Many students tend to lose interest in art history due to monotonous lectures in class. There may be a better way to cultivate students' interest in this area. This past semester, I introduced art history to college freshmen through studio activities--it proved to be a successful endeavor.

Art History

I chose Cubism for our first area of study as it has significant influences in many central concepts of Modern art. The Cubists' concept of space and the two main phases of Cubism were introduced to the students to begin the lesson. The following outlines some of the concepts I used to introduce these innovative artists.

The Cubists looked for reality in a painting. The definition of reality can be broken into three areas.

1. Reality in Space

Cubists wanted to free themselves from traditional concepts of space represented by Renaissance perspective. They saw painting a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional canvas as an illusion of space. They created space by overlapping.

2. Reality in Moment of Time

By combining different viewpoints into one painting, Cubists disregarded the fixed moment of time and brought about the concept of painting from |knowledge' instead of |vision.'

3. Reality in Life

In the later state of Cubism, Cubists used everyday, disposable materials as a substitute for the subject to be painted. They found the inclusion of actual materials in a painting more real than painting them.

The Two Phases of Cubism

Analytical Cubism 1910-1912

* Different views of the same object are put together in one representation as if they happened simultaneously.

* Right-angled and straight-line construction are favored; color schemes are simplified, tending to be nearly monochromatic.

Synthetic Cubism 1912-1915

* The inclusion of lettering, newspaper, wall poster or the cover of a piece of sheet music to form a textured surface or decorative patterning was characteristic of this period.

* The Cubists introduced bright, solid colors and shapes to make up a more decorative composition.

Because of the difficulty in reaching all the planned objectives in one activity due to the complexity of the periods and concepts of Cubism, I decided to reconstruct the experience into several activities.

Lesson 1--Converting a Cubist Painting to Realistic Form

Objective: Students understand that art history involves the investigation and interpretation of works of art.


1. Select several Cubists' works that show readable images despite the destruction of form.

2. Discuss these paintings with the students. …