Why Study Art History?

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Visual art is a more primal and direct form of communication than spoken language. Over time, cultures have accumulated examples of visual art that are exceptional in one respect or another. Studying the history of this art, as well as specific examples of it, can help us develop our aesthetic appreciation faculties, enhance our understanding of other cultures, and enable us to view the world differently.
The capacity to appreciate beauty is a capacity that underlies the capacity to feel joy more than any other. Without the ability to notice the aspects of shape and form that create the impression of visual beauty, life would be much, much poorer for most of us.
Studying art history enables us to develop this faculty to a greater extent. By viewing and studying the greatest works of art history, we are not only familiarizing ourselves with these works, but becoming better able to notice and appreciate beauty in our everyday lives.
Art is always bound to the culture it originated from. No piece of artwork can be stripped of the cultural context that influenced its creation. When we view a painting originating from the West, its use of artistic perspective, shape, color, and form, may differ significantly from artwork native to Zimbabwe. These differences are not to be demonized, but cherished. What makes art from Sub-Saharan Africa different from art produced in Yorkshire, England, also makes it more special.
World perspectives are partially influenced by the fine, and pop, art we consume everyday. Fine art, even more so than pop art, contains the ability to influence a viewer’s world view. When we view Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, we are not only seeing a literal painting, but seeing a world view tinged with romantic elements of pathos that may well influence our own world view. When we view DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, we are not only viewing a feminized self-portrait, but a world view encapsulated in that portrait. This self-same principle applies to art ranging from Michaelangelo’s David to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Art contains so much more than the visual. By viewing a painting, we are not only staring at arranged dried blobs of pigment, but also engaging in a dialogue with the artist of the painting. And it is that dialogue that has the profound capability of influencing our own views of life.


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