Art Department: Goals and Objectives
The Art Department offers courses of study in art history, studio art, and architectural design. The art history program provides students with knowledge of significant works of art and architecture throughout history. It also considers fundamental methodological concerns of the field, i.e., the aesthetic, cultural, religious, and social interpretations of major monuments and key works. (I have sent along a folder of assignments and exams from Art 105-106 that provides information on what kinds of questions we ask; these tend to balance formal aspects with larger issues of historical or social developments that affect the arts.)
The studio program teaches classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. The studio courses introduce students to the creative process involving skills in both the conceptual and material aspects of art making. One of the fundamental goals of instruction in studio art at Vassar is to promote the understanding of the visual language in its role of imparting meaning. These courses aim to impart skills and to introduce students to the processes entailed in the various kinds of creative works and their materials. The architectural design program will be reconfigured. Currently, the one professor who teaches the design courses is half-time; we will be hiring a tenure-track assistant professor to teach jointly with Urban Studies in a broader program combining the technical aspects of architecture with a liberal arts focus (fall '07).
The art history program depends on the collections of the Loeb Art Center for study of original works of art. Field trips to museums and galleries in New York City and Boston are also a vital part of the curriculum. The studio program enriches its curriculum with such trips, and by bringing artists to campus to lecture on their work and to take part in studio critiques of student work. Majors may also earn credit doing field work in museums or art organizations locally or in New York City.The department offers courses that encompass topics and periods ranging from the arts of the ancient world to those of Asia, Africa, early modern Europe and contemporary art in a global environment. Critical inquiry and analytical thinking are essential components of the field that explores visual experience in historical contexts. The study of works of art and the clear communication of their significance provide non-majors with a solid foundation in the humanities that is tied to other fields, including history, classics, and anthropology. Art 105-106 serves the College's general-education goals by introducing students to the key monuments of civilization, as well as, in its current updated form, to global and contemporary works such as artists' videos. The course also employs digital imagery that allows for an altered mode of presentation. That many of the faculty are involved in the multidisciplinary programs—including American Culture, Africana Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies—attests to the synthetic character of the field.
The foundational course in the studio, Art 102-103, introduces the practices of the artist to a broad population. The course does not teach technique in a formulaic manner, but rather emphasizes ways of seeing and conceptualizing the processes entailed in making art.
The aim of the studio art courses is to impart modes of thinking and problem solving, relevant to a variety of intellectual undertakings, through the production of works of art. Both content and meaning are explored in the context of many disciplines and through an understanding of the broader culture.
Both art history and studio majors need a range of courses in different periods or media to ensure breadth. They must also take a sequence of advanced courses (seminars in art history) that lead to a senior project. For the art history major, this project is a senior thesis, a thirty-page research paper written in one semester under the supervision of an adviser. For the studio major, senior project takes the form of a work of art or series of works produced in one semester under faculty supervision. Both seminars and advanced courses, including the critiques for studio majors, allow students to discuss issues or themes in a group setting; the senior art-history thesis and studio-art project allow for independent research and creative expression. Both exercises call upon powers of reason and imagination, the art-history thesis by asking students to construct a clear and concise argument with historical or formal evidence; and the studio-art project by compelling students to strive to handle materials and form in a novel way.