Art history was a senior elective that had absolutely nothing to do with my intended college major. And it quickly became one of my favorite high school classes. I remember taking a field trip midway through our second semester to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which in my opinion is the most inviting and comprehensive art museum I have ever visited. I am sure the field trip was intended for us to apply some knowledge from the class to art in person, but for me the visit instilled a great love for admiring art galleries, a love that went far beyond the details of a Greek krater or a Byzantium triptych.
First of all, the world of art is tremendously vast. Massively encompassing. Extensive. When someone casually says, “I like art” or “art is beautiful” what do they actually mean? Maybe they like Impressionism, but cannot stand Modern art. They might like sculptures, but not sketches. Art is an general umbrella term that is often used vaguely and ambiguously. The broad manner in which we think about art carries a distinct beauty — in that for each of us, our experience with art is different. This personal, and unregulated, appreciation for art lends itself to the need for cultivation, for the value in art education.
Our visceral reaction to art is inherently human. Is it pleasant, repugnant, or awe-inspiring? Feeling this emotion immediately when we look at artwork does not require a fine arts degree. However, art education can shape the criteria for which we classify that work of art. When we are educated about art, we are able to value the skill in the execution, even without particularly liking the finished composition. Art education, even as an elective, fosters critical thinking skills and perception of detail. In art history, not only do you learn how a piece was created, but you also learn why and when it was created. By understanding contextual clues for placement in social history, we are able to categorize a particular work of art to a particular period of time.
Art has been described as an expression of culture. Artisans from agricultural communities painted pottery with bountiful harvests, monks embroidered tapestries with heavenly wonders, and sculptors replicated esteemed athletes. Art history tracks the evolution of art, as it appears along our human timeline, allowing us to observe the religious, political, and educational factors that influenced our ancestors. Additionally, art is studied regionally, in accordance with the rise and fall of empires, colonization, and global migration.
At the Yale University Art Gallery, Ancient art is on the first floor and contemporary art is on the fourth floor. As you wander through the exhibits, you literally ascend chronologically from past to present.
The Yale University Art Gallery first opened in 1823, making it the oldest university museum in North America. The building as it stands today is actually the integration of two adjacent buildings — one built in 1928 and the other in 1953. A third building, first built in 1866, is connect by the High Street Bridge.
The Yale University Art Gallery manages to marry two distinct architecture styles, where the left and the right become one entity. The 1928 building is mainly in the style of Romanesque architecture, while the 1953 building is far more modern. The Neo-Gothic arches, columns, and intricate stone detailing on the right contrast beautifully with the top-to-bottom glass walls and brick facade on the left.
Directly inside the 1928 building, known as the Old Yale Art Gallery, is a breathtaking Ancient Mediterranean art exhibit. When midday light filters through the windows, the aged marble appears brighter and the fragmented stone appears smoother. The vaulted ceilings are adorned with suspended iron cages of light, and the glass display boxes provide transparency for the crisp, neutral glow which inhabits the space. The creamy white, dusty grey, and barely-there brown color palette serve to enhance, not distract from, the sculpture collection. This collection of old-world treasure, illuminated by present day light, truly creates a magical atmosphere. Walking in and around the sculptures transforms the viewer into an invigorated participant, taking part in an captivating experience.
Museums make art real.
Seeing a masterpiece with your own eyes is emotionally powerful and thought provoking. The rise of ‘art gallery culture’ in the last century certainly proves that people are searching for a human connection to the past, with art as the medium. Museums that successfully combine gorgeous architecture with aesthetically pleasing exhibits, are purposefully creating an entertaining, educational experience.
Notably, museums are tourism meccas. Every major city has a unique collection of art, and ranks high as a point of interest for visitors. For example, the Denver Art Museum has an excellent collection of Native American American art, whereas the Baltimore Museum of Art showcases the Cone Collection, a masterful selection of 20th Century European Modern Art.
Art is widely accessible, not just to elite collectors as in antiquity, but to the general public. Museums have social media accounts, and photography is allowed in most pubic exhibits. Visitors are encouraged to share their experiences online, further promoting the status of museums as cultural attractions.
And if you are unable to visit an award-winning gallery yourself? Most museum websites have free public domain images of every single item in their collection. This includes artwork that is not currently on display. Online blogs and independent artist websites are additional sources of information about art. Today, self-education has never been easier.
Never has it been more important.
At its core, art is an expression of humanity. Standing in front of a painted canvas, with the epiphany that it was touched by a master, and now hangs at a touchable distance, brings about a universal consciousness. It creates a tangible connection between the past and the present. There is much for each of us to learn from history, which is a humbling realization.
The purpose of art education surpasses academia. The real purpose of art education is to become more compassionate, more understanding, and more appreciative of human intellectual achievement.
For the complete article with more images, download our digital Spring Issue No. 01.