With much fanfare, the six of us walk down the stairs and enter a room at the end of the hall. Our male counterparts sit on one side of the room while we crowd the other. Dr. Frezza turns the projector on, and we begin discussing prehistoric art or ancient Mesopotamian art or ancient Egyptian art, and for the 40 minutes our AP Art History course lasts, we pretend to be art historians.
We don’t just talk about names and dates. We discuss cultural trends and how art not only points to a higher way of living but also displays what people in certain societies valued. Portraits cannot simply be taken at face value. (That was an intentional pun.) The time and place in which they were created must be examined as well. Why are some works praised as universal masterpieces? Is art supposed to make the viewer think, or does art belong to the artist, even as the centuries go by? And, while we’re at it, what is art, exactly? Are there any exceptions to what constitutes as “art”?
For the first two weeks of the class, we took apart the definition of art and art history. To paraphrase a quote Dr. Frezza included in one of her powerpoints, history isn’t a blanket already woven; it’s tattered bits of blankets that, when sewn together by skilled weavers, give the student some sense of what the original blanket looked like. Basically, the parts of history one chooses to emphasize are important, and if one chooses correctly, then they create a realistic depiction of history, not one that is idealized or influenced by bias. Examining art is a way to go about achieving a representation of history that preserves some of the original “blanket”.
On Friday, I went to the Carnegie Museum of Art (I skipped the natural history part), and I already realize that I’m looking at art differently. What emotions was this picture of a girl under an apple tree supposed to provoke? Was it scandalous for the time period? Was she a real person, or just a symbol for something else? Those are a few questions that ran through my head while staring at a particular piece. Before this class, I knew that art was supposed to make you feel something, but I didn’t realize that you might have to do a little background research to figure out what that “something” is, or that capturing that “something” is what keeps the artist perpetually occupied.
This is what AP Art History has taught me, and it’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life (or at least every time I walk into an art museum).