26 Jan What is the value of art history in our contemporary world?
The history of art helps us to think not only about the objects that surround us, but at the same time, about the ideas that support them. This field of study offers valuable analytical, reflective, descriptive and critical skills that, beyond equipping an academic discipline with more than three centuries of history, can be effectively applied in the field of everyday life. The value that art history acquires today is decisive, given that our globalised world is completely saturated and mediated by images. In general terms, we could define art history as the knowledge of the visual.
Art history is concerned with the study of pictorial, sculptural and architectural works, which it frames in its social, ethical, political, economic and aesthetic coordinates. But his field of work is not limited to the field of the so-called Fine Arts. He also studies new media, such as photography, film, video art; and of course, objects, products and processes involving design in all its variants. Every artistic or design object is the result of an entanglement of visual, textual, mental, perceptive, media, technical and institutional elements. To these elements are added issues of gender, race and class, which, in the same way as they pass through our bodies, pass through visual representations. The history of art studies the complexity of these relationships, as manifested in material images, film images, and electronic images.
Why is it important to study Art History in a design school?
Art history approaches artistic techniques, plastic languages, and aesthetic ideas from a historiographic approach. And unlike what is commonly believed, this approach is not only theoretical, but also practical. It provides students with a set of tools to consolidate critical writing, to carry out rigorous research processes involving the study of art and design, and to critically process our visual culture. It allows students to analyse, understand and interpret works of art from both our past and our present world, to understand their historical, political-economic and socio-cultural context, to understand the nature of creation, to discern the value of art and design, and to appreciate the role of different types of audiences.
It offers students the possibility of developing a personal, critical and informed perspective that allows them to understand the accounts of art history, what the mechanisms of production, communication and reception of art and design are, and to develop new forms of experimentation. If it is important for design students to study art history, it is because it helps us to assess, in a reasoned way, the social, cultural and conceptual importance of creative products and processes. As if this were not enough, it also provides a solid training for working in the professional field of museums, art centres, galleries, auction houses, and the media.
Article by Christian Alonso, Doctor in Art History from the University of Barcelona, and Professor of Art Theory and History at ESDi.