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Skidmore College
Art History


Art history affirms and explains the importance of visual acuity and historical perspective for a critical engagement with images, artifacts, and built environments. We use objects to understand history and culture, and history and culture to understand objects. Students earning a BA in art history explore the varied roles of objects, creators, audiences, and patrons in diverse cultural contexts around the world and in a range of periods from antiquity to the present.The skills art history majors develop in analyzing visual objects and written sources adapt to a wide range of future pursuits. Majors improve their abilities to write clearly, speak articulately, and carry out detailed research, preparing them broadly for post-college life, including art-related careers, graduate studies in many fields, and other personal, civic, and professional endeavors.


Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan Envoy,  painting on silk, Yan Liben, 618–907

Goals of the Art History Major

I. Knowledge

The student will gain:

  • familiarity with the terminology necessary for the historical study and discussion of objects
  • global and historical breadth of knowledge about objects and their creators, audiences, and cultural contexts
  • knowledge of the creative process, including the possibilities and limitations of various media, acquired through the direct experience of making art 

II. Abilities

The student will be able to:

  • recognize and understand different methodological approaches to analyzing objects
  • communicate persuasively in both writing and speaking
  • reason persuasively, i. e. , present a thesis, support that thesis with visual and historical evidence, and come to logical conclusions
  • formulate insightful questions about objects and answer them through research and creative thinking 

III. Values and perspectives

The student will graduate with:

  • an understanding of the agency of visual representation and experience in both the past and the present, and an interest in the diverse values and ideas evident in the visual expression of different cultures and periods
  • a recognition of objects as experienced in particular environments (including original and intended locations as well as museums and galleries), and the limits of working with reproductions
  • a respect for and willingness to engage productively with modes of visual expression and experience that are unfamiliar (whether temporally, geographically or culturally)
  • an ability to apply habits of critical seeing and historical and cultural awareness to visual experience in everyday life beyond the classroom