What is art? Why does visual culture matter? How do images and art objects come to have meaning, value, and power within culture more broadly? These questions are central to the dynamic and intense engagement with art history at Grinnell College. We study art both in the particular time and place of its social and cultural history and as we encounter it in the complex global world today. Doing art history at Grinnell means approaching art and visual culture in multiple ways, from object-centered analysis to social-political history to contemporary critical theory.
At Grinnell students develop a critical understanding of art as a history of human culture that both shapes and responds to people, societies, politics, and identities. The skills art history classes teach through visual and written analysis enhance all students' abilities in literate communication, whatever major and vocation they choose. Given the centrality of the visual today—in the media and the Internet—it is essential that students learn how to analyze what they see.
We encourage cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies and incorporate them in our curriculum. Students typically expand their study on programs abroad, and travel abroad is built into some of our own courses. A highlight of our curriculum is the exhibition seminar, a rare opportunity for undergraduate students to curate a professional exhibition using objects in the Grinnell College Art Collection. The seminar culminates in a show in the Faulconer Gallery and in the publication of a catalogue students have researched, written, and produced.
Our majors go on to work in architecture, arts management, community service, development, education, law, and museums and galleries. Those pursuing advanced degrees have a brilliant track record. Our alums are currently graduate students at the most prestigious academic institutions (UC Berkeley, Bryn Mawr, the Courtauld, Duke, Stanford, UCLA, Williams, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale, to name a few) and receive some of the most coveted national fellowships (in 2012-13, there are two Grinnell grads in residence at the National Gallery's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts!).
Whether students choose to become specialists in art history or not, the art history major at Grinnell prepares them for a lifetime of deep engagement with culture and its significance both locally and globally.