Blog Author, Dawn, standing in a gardenby Dawn E. Hewitt, Adjunct, Assistant Professor, Art Department

Coming in to teach ARTS 1301 can be a little daunting. There is a lot of material to cover, vocabulary to learn and concepts to grasp. Often students will come into this class with little or no background knowledge of the visual arts. For me, the goal of the class is not to create academic art historians. Instead, my objective is to help break down the misconception that art is something you see in museums, that art is reserved for the privileged few. By looking at visual arts in a broader context, a more global lens with an expanded observation of gender through people, objects and themes, the class can engage better with students from all walks of life and provide a broader sense of connection. 

To do this, I identified two problems. First is an issue of traditional art history instruction. Art history has been rooted in Western Civilization and has been taught with this focus for hundreds of years with art created from Greco-Roman traditions often given preference to art from other cultures. Second is a lack of knowledge or continued education for professors who may only have a cursory understanding regarding gender theories in art and at most may incorporate a few female artists when expanding the scope of art appreciation. 

The solution to these problems can be resolved by incorporating new material and creating a shared resource for other ARTS 1301 professors. By incorporating material that reflects a more global and varied gender view of art in historical and contemporary contexts, students are more likely to engage in discussion and perhaps create connections or excite interest in the topic. This expanded material can be supported through a scalable resource that expands and expounds the representation of women, transgender and non-binary genders through the topics of people, objects and themes. 

By using the recommended textbook, Living with Art, art appreciation professors can make a choice to include chapters that are focused outside of the European continent. This can be a little intimidating, especially if the traditional canon is what you are most familiar with from your own education. To make space, I reduced the amount of material from the Roman period and started introducing sections that I felt most comfortable teaching from chapters titled: Arts of Islam, Arts of Asia, and Arts of the Pacific and of the Americas. Some things to consider as you introduce an expansion are gender construction in the context of time, place, and culture. Consider theories surrounding aesthetics, feminism and queerness placed with a global context.   

The Faculty Learning Community for Global Gender and Women’s Studies allowed me to explore ideas of expanding the course to better represent cultures outside of the typical art history canon, which tends to focus on European art as the objects of study. I was able to implement classroom lectures and discussions as well as assign questions that helped to integrate a more holistic approach to considering and appreciating art. In the future, I would like to create a shareable resource to help educate students but also to educate my fellow professors too.