Overview and Learning Goals


The Department of Art comprises two programs: art history and visual arts. Majors in the department are expected to elect one of these programs. The major in art history is devoted primarily to the historical and critical study of the visual arts as an embodiment of some of humanity’s cultural values and a record of the historical interplay of sensibility, thought, and society. The major in visual arts is intended to encourage a sensitive development of perceptual, creative, and critical abilities in visual expression.

Art History Learning Goals

Art history learning goals are introduced in 1000-level courses, utilized further in 2000-level courses, and refined in 3000- and 4000-level courses with an emphasis on independent practice.

Student majors in the discipline of art history will:

  • Learn the structured method of visual analysis in order to deepen their understanding of visual and material form, spatial effects, and medium and technique of works of art, artifacts, and architecture, and then convey that understanding clearly.
  • Engage with actual objects through deliberate and extended examination, using the architecture of the campus, holdings of the Museum of Art, Arctic Museum, and other campus collections.
  • Acquire an understanding of the history of art across time and geography as being rooted both in the specific histories of particular periods and places and as involving broader systems of cultural connection, conflict, migration, resistance, exchange, appropriation, and assimilation. 
  • Learn to locate, identify, and assess critically the relevant historical sources in order to build an interpretation.
  • Employ these skills to interpret any unfamiliar object, bringing to bear visual evidence, knowledge of the history of visual forms, and historical information about subject, meaning, and context.
  • Challenge the initial subjective response to a work of art by exerting effort to inform themselves about cultures and art traditions that are unfamiliar to them.
  • Question their own cultural assumptions about what art is and what artists are.
  • Question the received wisdom of the discipline of art history, assessing anew the inherited categories, methods of analysis, and currently accepted interpretations of objects.
  • Develop original research projects that can produce new knowledge and understandings.
  • Develop strong writing and speaking skills in order to construct a solid thesis and supporting argument, and then communicate them effectively.

Art History Department Website

Visual Arts Learning Goals

  • Develop skills of direct observation of the world in order to examine the relationship between seeing and knowing.
  • Embark upon a range of material explorations in order to gain technical proficiency and facility with multiple means of artistic production.
  • Master the formal elements of visual design in order to articulate ideas and to develop an individual artistic language.
  • Independently develop and be self-critical of one’s creative production.
  • Engage in critical discourse and extend it to one’s daily life.
  • Identify the concerns and motivations informing one’s practice and articulate their significance within global historical and contemporary context.
  • Locate one’s work within the larger conversations defining the liberal arts.

Visual Arts Department Website

Options for Majoring or Minoring in the Department

Students may elect to major in art history, visual arts, the art history and archaeology interdisciplinary major, the art history and visual arts interdisciplinary major, or to coordinate a major in art history or visual arts with digital and computational studies, education, or environmental studies. Students pursuing coordinate or interdisciplinary majors may not normally elect a second major. Non-majors may elect to minor in art history or visual arts. 

This is an excerpt from the official Bowdoin College Catalogue and Academic Handbook. View the Catalogue