By Elizabeth Griffith | April 3, 2017
Art history professors may disagree with me on this, but I believe the real value of a great art appreciation course is not found in the memorization of artists’ names, artwork titles, dates, and places. Nor is it becoming familiar with artistic movements like Romanticism, Pointillism, or any other ism. Although knowing those things will certainly help you make the grade and keep your professor happy, in the long run, I believe you gain the most from your insights into the human condition and the opportunity to mentally travel through space and time.
Through studying masterpieces created by the world’s most renowned artists throughout history, you have access to perspectives, stories, and inspiration which have helped shape our civilization. After all, what could be better than learning about life, love, spirituality, politics, history, fantasy, and culture than through an artistic expression skillfully executed by a master craftsman?
Art is often said to be an expression of the soul. It is this expression which speaks directly to our desires to understand that which makes us human. Vincent van Gogh said, “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” How many people attack their own lives and careers with that same focus and passion?
Art appreciation bridges the gap that lies between the heart and the head by connecting us to something much bigger than ourselves. We examine the architecture, illustrations, paintings, and sculptures that introspectively transport us to another time and place while portraying a range of human experiences from victory to defeat and apathy to empathy. By seeking to understand an artists’ message, we become attuned to the emotions of others, thereby giving us a greater ability to empathize despite the lack of environmental, cultural, or socioeconomic similarities.
According to the US Department of State, in 2016 less than half of our eligible citizens held a valid passport. The National Travel & Tourism Office
reports only 10% of the US population traveled overseas; excluding Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Say we estimate half of that 10% traveled for business purposes, then only 5% traveled with the goal to see and experience the world and its diverse cultures — many of which were directly responsible for producing the very work featured in our art history textbooks. With such limited first-hand exposure to profound work, which directly reflects the origins of our culture, doesn’t it make sense for art appreciation to be a required course in higher education?
As you can imagine, the majority of people in the United States are not able to fully experience such treasures in person, such as the delicate features of the Mona Lisa, the overwhelming beauty inside the Sistine Chapel, or see the Venus de Milo in the round. However, this inaccessibility shouldn’t stop us from immersing ourselves as best we can in a world meant to enrich and enlighten us. I encourage you to explore the art galleries at Marian University. They are open to the public and feature a variety of professional and student work throughout the year. We are just a few minutes from the front doors of the Indianapolis Museum of Art
, where you can get so close to the work of world famous artists that you can see their brush strokes. Of course, art isn’t only found in galleries or museums, but is all around us. You just have to look for it. I hope that when you see it, you’ll remember the lessons you walked away with from your brief stop in art appreciation.