By LIZ BUTTON
Advanced Placement Art History is a popular elective class at Rye High School and, next year, teacher Sara Charles said, the course curriculum will be aligned with the AP World History curriculum, giving broader meaning and deeper historical context to her art history class’ current global focus.
Charles teaches both classes, making it easier for her to create a more comprehensive program on art beyond the European tradition, she said.
Rye’s AP Art History course involves looking at paintings, sculptures, architecture and other media, tracing the history of human imagination and expression back to the earliest cave paintings.
In Charles’ class, students study the ancient world, learning about the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt; the classical periods of Greece and Rome; and the art of the Middle Ages that contain sacred messages from Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Islamic traditions.
The course’s units of study span centuries and artistic movements, covering the Renaissance, Baroque Art, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Modern Art.
The class, said Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez, offers “some wonderful opportunities for our youngsters to learn about art history.”
AP Art History presents another opportunity as well; to earn college credit. The full-year elective course qualifies for the College Board Advanced Place-ment Program and is offered only to juniors and seniors, who take a comprehensive exam in May to earn college credit.
Currently, Charles teaches two sections of the course with 53 students in all, comprising a diverse group, from artists to art enthusiasts to students who have never taken an AP class, to students taking three or more AP classes.
Students in the class use iPads donated by the high school’s parent organization, which Charles said have really transformed the way the kids can see art.
In AP Art History, students study ongoing themes of integrating art from the non-western world. The class includes analysis of art across time by comparing works past and present and integrating constructs of gender and identity in art.
After a curriculum audit last year, changes to the AP Art History curriculum were announced in November 2013 for the 2015-2016 school year. The curriculum will now go even more in depth in integrating art beyond the European tradition.
Currently, the class compares western to non-western artistic traditions, looking at the art of Renaissance Italy beside art being made at that time in the Congo in Africa, and comparing post-Impressionism works from the 1800s in Western Europe and the U.S. to the art of Japan at the time, when the country first opened to the western world.
The new the curriculum also features a greater emphasis on teacher choice, fewer multiple-choice questions on tests and a limited number of images students are required to memorize, Charles said. Currently, the students learn 50 to 75 images for every unit.
For some, besides the benefits of taking a class that involves writing and talking about art as a form of critical thinking, there is also the connection to future careers. At present, there are six Rye students interning at the Frick Museum in New York City, which is known for its venerable collection of works by Old European Master painters.
Impressions of the class from former students are passionate, Charles said. One first year architecture student noted the skills he learned in AP Art History have proven to be invaluable in several of his college courses. Another student said, “AP Art History is the only class that has driven me to pursue its content far beyond the classroom.”
Charles said course highlights include field trips to the New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters. and the Museum of Modern Art; putting on a Renaissance gala where students play out the parts of early Renaissance artists; creating a Facebook page for an Impressionist artist; of their choice; and making a Jackson Pollock-style T-shirt with splattered paint the students wear on the day of the AP test.