Yale University’s decision at the end of last month to eliminate its introductory art history survey course following criticism of the class’s focus on Western art sparked both public praise and anger. Among those who spoke out against the move was Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight, who called it a “colossal” mistake. In an attempt to provide further insight into the decision-making process, department chair Tim Barringer submitted a letter to the College Art Association on Monday, which addresses some of the changes being made to the curriculum.
“Art history is a global discipline,” the letter reads. “Yale faculty have made field-changing contributions to the study the arts of the Americas (notably pre-Columbian art and the full range of North American art from colonial to contemporary), African art and arts of the African Diaspora, Asian and Islamic arts, and European art from ancient times to today. The diversity of the department’s faculty and our intellectual interests finds an analogue in the diversity of today’s student body. Discussions in the department have focused on how to ensure that this diversity of research and resources can inform and energize our teaching.”
While the final survey course will be taught in the spring, art history students enrolling in classes for the fall will find that the two-part class—HSAR 112 covered the ancient Middle East, Egypt, and pre-Renaissance European art and HSAR 115 covered European and American art from the Renaissance to the present—was replaced with new introductory courses such as “Global Decorative Arts,” “Arts of the Silk Road,” “Global Sacred Art,” and “The Politics of Representation.”
“We remain as committed as ever to ‘the study of all forms of art, architecture, and visual culture’ and to sharing insights into works of art, from the Parthenon sculptures to Benin bronzes, from Renaissance Florence to Aztec sculpture, from the Taj Mahal to performance and digital art,” the letter continues. “As life becomes increasingly dominated by the visual, through screens and lenses, art history’s focus on critical visual analysis has never been more relevant. Recent excitement on social media about Yale’s curriculum demonstrates just how significant and lively—even controversial—the study of art history can, and should, be.”