For decades the teaching of art history survey has been built on the canon. The history of art has been tweaked to become the history of Western art. Selected women artist and artists of color have been added along with some art of native and Asian cultures. With some acknowledgement of cultural, social and political forces, as time allows, the focus is still largely artist, date, style.
With new scholarship, new isms and an expansive and expanding array of artists, it’s almost impossible to adequately fit art history into the two-semester survey format. The traditional survey assumes it knows what art is, even if its makers never have called it that. It assumes that chronology is the correct approach, even though in practice most people don’t experience it that way. Still, this approach may work for the traditional college or university curriculum.
But what about an art college? Great art proves its greatness, according to Henry Geldzahler, by always continuing to be new. The meaning of a piece of art in its time is not the meaning of it for artists now. If great art has the power to endure through time and to emerge with fresh meaning and impact, then this is perhaps the important process to investigate. This would be to see art history as a living organism with roots in the past and tentacles in the future. Art would not plod through time, but dart about making connections and defying its boundaries in time and place.
This would be a very difficult and time consuming undertaking. It would be a wonderful opportunity to learn a great deal as well as for falling on your face. It would be a chance to think your way through art history rather than memorize your way through it. It would be a way to answer for yourself the important questions that the canon assumes have been already answered.
If you decide to do this, good luck. Let me know. I want to sit in. I know it’s something I couldn’t do without great trepidation.