Art History at Prep

Art History is a new course offered to students grades 10-12 from the History Department.  Prep had a long, successful history of offering the course for many years with retired teacher, Anita Ginocchio, at the helm, teaching various levels and variations including an Honors “Studio” Art History.  It has been exciting to revitalize the course and develop it to address student interest.

Traditionally, Art History has been taught methodically, chronologically, and primarily with a Western focus, sometimes at the exclusion of underrepresented art and artists.  Those who have taken Art History in college almost all seem to have the same experience—a class in a large, dimly-lit lecture hall with an Instructor clicking through old Kodak film slides, lecturing about each image in a numbing, monotone voice.  This course has been designed to be more dynamic with frequent student-led discussions.  However, slide lectures (now digital—no more slide carousels) will always be an integral part of teaching Art History.  

The semester has started by studying the more canonical aspects of the subject.  We have studied key works from Prehistoric, Near Eastern, Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Art, and are currently looking at the many innovations of the Renaissance.  While this approach is more traditional, students are required to make correlations with modern art and visual culture and to discuss current related topics such as the destruction of invaluable Near Eastern art by terrorist groups.  The final lectures of the course will center on the many “-isms” of Modern Art and Contemporary Art.  Students will finish up the semester by performing individualized research on an underrepresented topic of Art History.  In lieu of a research paper, students are encouraged to take on the role of a curator, and organize a virtual exhibition, creating a Curatorial Statement based on their research.

Prep is very fortunate to have amongst its faculty and staff, resident scholars in various areas of Art History.  Karen Burbank just finished a fantastic lecture on Japanese woodcuts and other Japanese arts.  Karen has her degrees in Art History and Japanese Language and graciously shared her passion and knowledge of these fields with the class.  Looking forward, Lisa Nordstrum will lecture on Spanish Colonial Arts, the topic of her Master’s Thesis.  Students have the opportunity to tap into the knowledge of several other instructors including; Nick Wirth’s expertise in the Pueblo-Style Architectural Revival; Dan Murray’s insights into Central American arts; and others with an Art History background.

Santa Fe is a lively center for artists, historians, and research institutions.  Our students have the opportunity to tap into these resources, even speaking in-person with leading experts in the world, by literally driving around the corner.  For example, we took an exciting field trip to SAR/IARF on Garcia Street where the class was invited into its research vaults, allowing students to be inches away from important historical art works.  My friend, Elysia Poon, an art historian, gave us a personal tour of the vaults, speaking about the treasures of their collection.  Students were moved by this very intimate experience.  Nick Perillo ‘18 said, “Being present with the art allowed me to establish a deeper and more meaningful connection.”  Shane Unverferth ‘17 was inspired by the “heart” artists put into the works and summed up his experience by saying, “It will help keep me grounded.”

Art Historians, Curators, Authors, and even an art magazine Editor-in-Chief are slated to speak.  Suzanne Fricke-Newman, a curator of two important International Biennials lectured on October 28 about her work organizing these shows, sponsored by the American Embassy, State Department.  America Meredith, founding Editor and current Editor-in-Chief of First American Art, a magazine specializing in Indigenous North and South American art, will lecture on November 15, even giving copies of this great magazine to those present.

I hope my students see the vitality and expansive applications of Art History.  Varying the class with field trips and guest lectures keep students engaged.  Art History is not limited to studying a chronology of art production, but cultures, changing social climates, and a visual study of History.  Students’ knowledge will hopefully illuminate their studies in other disciplines and be a catalyst to investigate art for a lifetime.  

I am very grateful for the support this class has received by the Prep community.  It’s been a treat working across departments, both in Art and History.  I have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with History Department Chair, Russell Spinney, and the gracious welcome from all those in the Department.  Jan Adesso, Catherine McKenzie, and Heather Cohen have been incredible!  The library has expanded its Art History collection with many exciting texts—there is nothing better than a great big art book!  The school now has access to ARTstor, an incredible online source of millions of art images, articles on art history and the humanities, and much more.  I look forward to seeing how the class will evolve and students’ interest in the subject develop.  Prep has the chops to inspire the next great Art Historian!

– Alex Peña, Art & Art History Instructor