Art history combines the study of art with other disciplines. The emphasis is on understanding human creative processes and the social and historical contexts through which they are produced. Art history is a complex field that traces the development of art over time. This highly diversified field addresses many issues related to art appreciation, criticism, and appreciation. Students of art history typically include aesthetic theory in their coursework, but the focus is on the interpretation and significance of the art history material.
An artist's life usually begins with his childhood years. He takes various personal artistic decisions from this period, develops emotional ties to his art, and strives to create aesthetically satisfying works. Aesthetic perception is deeply rooted in the human psyche, according to most art historians. Thus, an artist cannot entirely escape the influence of his culture and time period. As such, an art history degree focuses on the historical context through which the artist creates his art.
Among the many areas of study offered by art history majors at colleges and universities across the country are art therapy, critical analysis, and psychoanalysis. In art therapy, art historians explore the human mind and its processes of identifying and connecting with one's identity and emotions. Theories of psychoanalysis are based on mental illnesses and their causes and the process by which they manifest and affect us. An art therapist may conduct individual interviews with patients or perform group therapy sessions to understand these theories and practices.
Critical theory in art history focuses on analyzing expressive art and other visual artifacts from different cultures and periods. Students study famous works of art from specific periods in history to develop a framework for examining art from an analytical perspective. Students also examine political, social, and cultural factors that impact art production and representation. For example, some critics have claimed that early American art was formed around the same time frame as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which occurred during the rise of capitalism in the US. Others have suggested that the roots of Abstract Expressionism can be traced to the French Nouveau movement, which focused on spontaneity and impressionism.
Another option for art history majors studying in the field is art education. Those wishing to become art historians should complete either a two-year Associate's degree in art history or a four-year Bachelor's degree in art history, taking precedence over coursework taken in art history courses concerning actual art history. A combination of coursework and experience can help students earn higher degrees, requiring specialized licensing.
One of the most popular courses taken by art historians is iconography. Iconography is a term that is used to describe the use of pictures in art. Images are presented to the student as both a work of art and a source of inspiration. Students will explore ancient iconography, ancient Egyptian art, Chinese iconography, Mexican art, and European iconography. They will also examine the Western perspective on these works of art, such as Baroque and Romantic art.
A final option for art history majors studying in the field is university press studies. The focus of university press studies is to write about the visual arts. Students will read books on the history of visual art and will research famous works of art produced in the United States and Europe, and other countries. This requirement differs slightly from the requirements for art history in the classroom, requiring a reading history of art. University press scholars will also participate in special projects related to visual art, writing about that topic in depth.
Students interested in applying their studies of art history may choose to specialize in one of several areas. They can achieve specialization by studying from a variety of disciplines within art history. Some art historians decide to specialize in either American art history, British art history, German art history, or European art history. Students may choose to specialize in a specific area of art history in order to fulfill their educational goals better.