What Do We Know About the World Around Us?
The History of Art takes as its object a wide range of visual cultures from around the world. The discipline examines in particular the ways in which diverse cultural values such as authority, divinity, dissent, or human dignity can be asserted, contested, or manipulated in visual media. For this reason the history of art is an ideal prism through which to investigate religion, politics, ritual, literature, and many other topics in the humanities or social sciences. The media examined typically include painting, sculpture, the decorative arts, graphic media, and architecture, as well as a variety of visual forms that run far afield of the traditional territory of "art" (for example, advertising, or ritual and ceremony, or household furnishings). Along the way, students learn to employ a wide array of interpretive methods useful in humanistic studies. Overall they acquire an informed respect for the world's cultures and develop skills in visual analysis so as to understand how images, objects, and built environments acquire agency in the human dramas that shape our world.
The Department of the History of Art at the University of Michigan is distinguished by its long-standing commitment to the study of diverse cultures from around the world and its emphasis on the close analysis of the visual arts within their historical and cultural contexts.
Many of our classes include field trips to museums and architectural sites, and hands-on work with original art objects and archival materials. Through careful work with original sources and a wide-ranging study of comparative cultures, our students learn to consider how art objects were understood in their own time and place, and how they continue to function in the contemporary world. In so doing, art history students acquire a liberal form of education which will serve them well in almost any future endeavor..