Art History at Hampshire College

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Art History

Art history is the analysis of visual data in a historical context. Hampshire students concentrating in this field learn not only how to analyze works of art as objects or monuments in their own right, but also to understand and interpret them in relation to the historical circumstances, endeavors, and conflicts of the culture and region in which they were made.Our courses cover the history of painting, prints, photography, sculpture, architecture, and design, often studied in terms of topics and ideas rather than stylistic periods, with an emphasis on depth of inquiry. Our explorations are not characterized by any single methodological approach—on the contrary, we share a commitment to the rigorous investigation of works as material artifacts and to theoretically sophisticated historical analyses from a wide variety of viewpoints. We consider all forms of visual culture to be worthy of analysis (from the ephemeral to the monumental) and consider all objects for their intrinsic properties and as visual evidence. Individual works are considered for their formal complexity in order to make critical hypotheses; those conclusions are then used to make connections to a diversity of kinds of histories—the specific social, political, economic, religious, philosophical, and cultural circumstances that shape the making and the reception of works of art.

Students read and interpret visual art works as records of a culture’s imagination and its larger societal concerns, while developing diverse critical methods and originality of thought.

Art history is an exciting area of inquiry, by its very nature strongly interdisciplinary, and at Hampshire students have created concentrations that relate art history to curatorial studies, sociology, memory, spirituality, literature, and architecture.

Student Project Titles

  • The Triumph of Earthly Love in the Work of Caravaggio
  • The Art Market: Record Sales in the Canon
  • The Peasant in Nazi and Soviet Visual Culture
  • The Marked Body: Queer Representation in Contemporary Art and the NEA
  • The Medical Gaze, Encrypted Space, and the Organized Body: Urban Transformation in Buenos Aires
  • 19th Century Literature and Art
  • Immured Contradiction: Radical Modernism, Critical Traditionalism at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, Helensburgh
  • Perspectives in Artistic Climates and Literary Evolution
  • Reversal Tactics: Deconstructing Popular Cultures

Featured Faculty Profiles

Sura Levine Professor of Art History

Karen Koehler Associate Professor of Art History and Architectural History

Sample First-Year Course

  • Realism in Nineteenth-Century Art

This course will explore the various aspects of realism in nineteenth-century art, from the idealized and/or photographic renderings of the human form and landscape, early documentary imagery (phrenology, hysteria, ethnic types) to the shift of realism into a politically charged type of art (Courbet, Millet, Meunier) and late nineteenth-century forms of naturalism as a realism transformed into spectacle. Works of literature (including Balzac, Zola, Dickens) will be read alongside artistic objects in order to document and examine the mutually enriching and problematizing developments in realism in both media.

Sample Courses at Hampshire

  • Aesthetic Theory
  • Art & Exile
  • The Body in Modern Art
  • Books, Book Arts, Artists’ Book, Bibliophilia
  • The Bauhaus
  • The Collector: Theory and Practice
  • Colonialism in the Visual Arts
  • Dada & Surrealist Visions
  • Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin
  • Europe After the Rain: Reconstructing Modernity
  • Guernica
  • Introduction to Visual Culture
  • Modernism & Modernity
  • Realism in Nineteenth-Century Art
  • Symbolists and Decadents
  • The Residue, the Detail, the Intimate
  • Visual Culture & the Holocaust

Through the Consortium

  • African Art & Diaspora (AC)
  • Art and Death (SC)
  • Dreaming of Italy (SC)
  • Evaluating Greek Art (UMass)
  • Gods & Mortals (MHC)
  • Great Themes in Art (UMass)
  • Impressionism & Post-Impressionism (UMass)

Facilities and Resources

Our position in the Five Colleges allows us to use the many local museums and galleries as our laboratories, and courses are sometimes designed in conjunction with museum exhibitions. Art history is a fundamental area of inquiry in the humanities and cultural studies at Hampshire, by its very nature strongly interdisciplinary, and at Hampshire students have created concentrations which relate art history to curatorial studies, sociology, critical theory, urban studies, memory studies, religion, history, and literature. Often students fuse their art historical studies with work in the arts (music, dance, painting, book arts, sculpture, performance art, creative writing, and architecture). Our students go on to careers in museums, galleries, architecture firms, auction houses, publishing, teaching, and to advanced degree programs in art history and visual and critical studies.

In a world that is increasingly dominated by visual expression, understanding the vocabulary and operations of the visual arts has become increasingly vital. Our emphasis on learning techniques for analyzing visual materials and locating them within time and place has consequences that extend beyond historical constructions. The historical study of the visual arts proposes that by looking into the past, we are encouraged to view the present with new outlooks that encourage a meaningful scrutiny of the present—including the relationship of visual culture to moments of conflict and transformation.

The Five College Consortium houses a number of museums open to Hampshire students and faculty. These, as well as a partnership with nearby Historic Deerfield, give students access to art and material culture from a wide range of geographic and historical contexts.

The National Yiddish Book Center, housed on Hampshire College’s campus, contains more than a million volumes of Yiddish literature and is host to hosts of public programs ranging from concerts to readings, films and exhibits.

The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College houses more than 14,000 works of art in its permanent collection, along with its changing exhibition space, the Fairchild Gallery, and a newly renovated Teaching Gallery.

The Smith College Museum of Art is best known for its collection of nineteenth and twentieth century paintings and sculpture, and also houses the state-of-the-art Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

The permanent collection of the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum, one of the oldest teaching museums in the country, includes Asian Art, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, medieval sculpture, early Italian Renaissance paintings, and other treasures.

The University Gallery at UMass Amherst maintains a massive permanent collection emphasizing works from the latter half of the twentieth century.

All of these spectacular collections are open to use by Hampshire students of art history, and frequently utilized by Hampshire classes.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is located on the Hampshire College campus and is the foremost force in a new movement to celebrate the previously under-recognized artistic field of children’s book illustration.

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