So, I will confess: while I have definitely worked my butt off in all of my college classes and had my fair share of struggles in my pre-med science classes, I’ve never been in a class where I felt completely out of place. That is, until this semester, when I enrolled in a History of Art and Architecture course entitled “American Art and Modernity.” If I’m being honest with myself, I haven’t really taken an art class since elementary school – while I think I’m good at appreciating fine art, I certainly am not strong in the understanding and analysis category, which means my first foray into a college art course has been humbling, to say the least.
I started out this semester with the intent of taking an “art” class. Yes, a large part of the inspiration for this was my lingering “Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding” General Education requirement, but I also was excited to take a “real” art course, not just one designed for a Gen Ed audience. With this in mind, I ended up shopping and ultimately enrolling in History of Art and Architecture (HAA) 172w: American Art and Modernity, an intermediate HAA course designed for concentrators and those with a background in art history. In short, not a course designed for people like me. I had taken a really fascinating course on American social thought last fall, however, and found Professor Roberts (the instructor of this course) incredibly engaging, so I decided to sign up for HAA 172w and plan on working my butt off.
The course itself is a really fascinating blend of history and art analysis, where we’ll talk about a specific movement or time period during each lecture and learn about the seminal artists, pieces, and techniques (or technologies) that defined that era. So far we’ve spent a lot of time learning about 19th century art, and particularly how the Civil War and its aftermath influenced American artists. While I’ve studied American history a good amount in high school and college, I’ve never looked at how historical invents or inventions influence art; as one example, we spent almost an entire lecture learning about how gun technology during the Civil War impacted the portrayal of time and space in art. Lecture tends to focus on broad themes, such as Civil War photography, aestheticism, or the arts and crafts movement. Section offers a really interesting complement to the lecture material, because we get to consider specific pieces of art and analyze them in depth in an hour-long discussion.
While I’m on the topic of section, this course has a really cool and unique section design: we meet at the Harvard Sackler Museum, and spend most of our hour together walking around the exhibits and examining works of art in person. One of the coolest parts of the Sackler is the fourth floor, where there are class-specific exhibits; our professor has taken many of the works that we discuss during lecture and put them on display so we can examine them in person. It wasn’t until my first section that I realized what a valuable asset this exhibit is, because there is a huge difference between looking at a slide of a painting and getting to see the piece up close. I confess that I’d never been to a Harvard art museum prior to enrolling in this course, and I’ve been so impressed by the quality of the University’s collection.
This week marks a big milestone for my HAA course, though: it’s midterm time! After absorbing the material and learning the types of vocabulary associated with art analysis, I’m really going to be tested on how much I’ve learned so far – I’m definitely a bit nervous but am hopeful that I have enough time between now and Thursday to get some quality studying in!