Unlearning the Canon: A More Global and Decolonized Survey of Art History Course


In undergraduate survey courses, global art is regularly compressed into discrete chapters in textbooks aimed at summarizing cultures and vast expanses of time in a few short pages. At worst, Asian, or African art is highlighted when it has historically influenced a European artist or served as a comparison to Western (read: superior) art. Equally problematic are the ways non-Western art is positioned in art history curricula and museum spaces, mis-categorized as art vs. artifact or grouped according to European standards of time, composition, or material. Often these displays in print, online, or in-person are in deference to the complex non-Western philosophical, socio-political, or spiritual theories that serve as a foundation for both object and maker. In my 2022 literature review I saw three trends emerge drawing from approaches to teaching the course, such as a theoretical approach, a thematic approach and a third category, I call inter/intrapersonal, in which student relevance, narrative or personal connection to the object takes precedence. In the Spring of 2023, I conducted a study in which I interviewed undergraduate instructors who teach survey courses in disrupted ways. I learned that the most important aspect of disruption was not in pedagogy, but in the opportunity for relationship-building, relevance, and meaning-making. Borrowing from gallery teaching and SEL, the survey course is still an important foundation that need not perpetuate the Western canon of art history in racialised ways. Instead, it can be an introduction to a new art history- or hopefully, many art histories.

Author Information
Allyson Montana, Columbia University, United States

Paper Information
Conference: IICAH2024
Stream: Arts - Teaching and Learning the Arts

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon