The Importance of Art History

Mastermind Behind the Masterpiece Mrs. Raitt spends each class period teaching about the world’s greatest art pieces, always aiming to inspire students to love art. (Jane Hagen)

Staff Writer

From Velasquez to Klimt and early cave paintings to modern day design, AP Art History covers it all.

“In AP Art History, we are very deliberative about learning the elements of style and the principles of design to help analyze art,” said Mrs. Michelle Raitt (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.), the teacher of the class, “but we also learn about the history and cultures that produced  the artworks that we study. It’s really fun because you have visual evidence of a historical time and you can see the historical reflection in the work right away.”

The class has been offered at UHS for twenty plus years, but it’s continuity cannot be guaranteed. Raitt has taught AP Art History for the last ten years, but she worries that her class may not survive in competition with with other courses.

“At it’s height, [Art History] had six sections when Mrs. Jeanette Watson and I taught it together,” Raitt explained, “when AP Psychology came along, enrollment went down, and, as they’ve added AP’s, enrollment has gone down. This is the first time there has been only one section of Art History. It went from three, to two, to one class in the past years.”

Even as the class lost popularity and word of mouth failed to inform students of it’s existence, Raitt has worked to keep enrollment. “I talk to a lot of students and I’ve been shamelessly advertising whenever I can find a chance,” she explained. “There is a very huge influence on artists from knowing their art history—it can’t be denied. It’s really a shame that more artists don’t know their art history very well.”

AP Art History is unique in that is grants arts credits but is not a hands-on art class. Raitt gets many different types of students because of this.

“I get students who are artists, I get students who are really interested in history and I get students who are trying to avoid doing studio art because they don’t want to.”

For whatever reason they are there, the students in the class all gain a new perspective on the world through their study of art history.“It’s really important as an artist to know the history of your craft because you are not the first person to do anything…it’s really easy to learn from the greats because we are standing on shoulders of giants. You can’t take that for guaranteed and art history allows you to learn from them,” AP Studio Art and AP Art History student Naomi Efron (Sr.) said.

Ms. Dana Kramer (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.) agrees with Efron:

Mrs. Hali Kessler (Visual and Performing Arts Dept.) and I both feel that art history is probably the most important class that you can take as an artist. It is such a great overview of the history of art, and, for our students who are in AP Studio Art or even Advanced or Beginning Studio Art, it helps them to create a foundation for their understanding of art in general.”

Another student of the class, Joseph Krassner (Jr.), believes art history is important because as he said, “as someone who values history, I find it important to educate myself on all types of history and I think art is one of the most important facets of history because of how it reveals a lot more about a time period than just words.”

AP Art History is a unique class and would be a great loss should it no longer be available at UNI. The class not only discusses and analyzes art, but also visits museums such as the Getty Villa and the Norton Simon in order to expose students to real-world depictions of the artistic styles they have studied. AP Art History teaches it’s students not only a new perspective on art through history, but also that one does not need to be an artist to appreciate art.

“Art history teaches you to be a better observer of the world around you,” Raitt said. “That’s the part I like about it the most, because you become sensitive to what you see in the world and look with educated eyes at what you see everyday.”

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