When I took a year-long science course last year, its significance went without discussion or argument – everyone very clearly understood that science is important to learn. It’s helpful to know how circuits and computers work, what a Higgs Boson is, how to make a Punnett Square. All of these are valuable skills, and everyone knows that.
But this year, as I embark in several one-semester classes of art history, I’ve encountered, more than ever, an attitude of “Why does this matter?” and “What does this have to do with me?” People find it difficult to understand how fine art – paintings, sculptures, buildings – created hundreds, even thousands of years ago, has bearing on their lives today. Academically, art history is simply not held on the same level as science or math or even another liberal arts class like literature.
But studying fine art and its history has major implications for how we view the world today. Art represents how we, as members of the human race, see ourselves, our place in the universe. It represents our fears and hopes and dreams. It documents historical events, our priorities, our different faiths. The men and women involved in art are some of the most incredible human beings the world has produced, and the products of their labor should not be diminished.
Art teaches us how to empathize. It teaches us to look at an object and feel something – anything. It teaches us to be appreciative of the world around us – seeing the beauty in ordinary things, shifting our very perception of reality. It is another language by which humans have spoken for thousands of years.
Prehistoric men and women painted the walls of their cave dwellings not to, as was previously thought, document hunting practices, but to document their transcendent relationship with the world around them. They felt a communion with the animals that was so extraordinary it had to be documented – and the medium they chose was art.
This is significant. This was the language of prehistoric humans, and it is a language we still speak today. This is something that cannot be said for any other language in the world. Certainly it has changed, but the need to express oneself in a visual manner is universal.
Art matters because we cannot escape the visual medium. Everything we own has been carefully created according to what we find aesthetically pleasing – our MacBooks, our mugs, our clothes, the media we consume. Aesthetics are important, and art history inspects how these seemingly insignificant things – the curves, lines, textures, colors that make up art – have changed history, have changed us…art is not dead. Art is living, and art changes how we think about the world.
That’s why art history is important. It charts how human beings have perceived the world around them and shaped it through a visual medium. It traces human history through images, and the value of this visual language simply cannot be overstated. That’s what art history has to do with you." — Amalia Vavala (x)