For decades, Yale University’s art history survey course, covering the evolution of art from 1300 to today, has been one of the department’s most popular offerings. But the program is now eliminating the course following complaints that it promotes an overly white, westernized canon at the expense of other narratives.
“Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present” is being taught for the last time this spring, albeit with a twist. The course’s instructor, art history department chair Tim Barringer, will use the final installment to demonstrate the importance of taking a more holistic approach to the subject, according to the Yale Daily News.
“I want all Yale students (and all residents of New Haven who can enter our museums freely) to have access to and to feel confident analyzing and enjoying the core works of the western tradition,” Barringer wrote in an email to the Yale Daily News. “But I don’t mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places.”
As part of this semester’s syllabus, which will look at art’s evolution in relation to “questions of gender, class, and ‘race,’” Barringer will ask students to submit essays making the case for the inclusion of a work that’s not currently part of the canon. The course retains its official title on transcripts, but in the classroom the professor refers to it as an “Introduction to Western Art.”
Barringer declined to comment further on the art department’s decision.
Interest in the course among undergraduates surged following news that this will be the last time it’s taught. During the school’s shopping period, when students sit in on potential courses before officially enrolling, more than 400 people attended the semester’s “Introduction to Art History” class. Due to space limitations, it is capped at 300.
Moving forward, the intro course will be replaced by surveys of individualized themes and movements, such as “Art and Politics,” “Global Craft,” and “The Silk Road.” Another 100-level course will be added in the next few years, but it will not be billed as a comprehensive survey. The diversification of curricula follows a similar move by the university’s English department, which changed the requirements for its major in 2017 after a petition calling for the decolonization of course offerings went public.
The art department’s news elicited a maelstrom of opinions online, fomenting particular unrest among conservatives who perceive it as a disservice to students looking for a broad overview course, rather than more specialized offerings. (Further fringes of the right have long adopted Classical Greek and Roman artworks as symbols of white nationalism, from Mussolini and the Nazi Party to crypto-fascist organizations such as Identity Evropa today.)
Right-wing publications such as Breitbart, The Daily Wire, and The Washington Sentinel all picked up the story shortly after it went live. “It’s just another example of our system of higher miseducation trying to destroy American education in favor of pushing anti-American and racist ideologies,” says the Sentinel.
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