My Tuesday and Thursday afternoons this semester have been a delight. While registering for the course, I remember entertaining doubts about whether or not taking a class on art history would be a rewarding experience. I had never taken such a class before. I was oblivious to the pedagogical standards of an arts classroom, so I did not know what to expect.
A point to be noted early on is that, Art after 1945 is not your usual art class where students gather and express their unadulterated thoughts about how a certain piece of art makes them “feel”. I suppose that’s how most people imagine it goes before attending one of these classes — I did. As I later found out, the intended goal of the class is to help the student cultivate the mental acumen to observe and cultivate one’s own taste from aesthetic judgement. And, in doing so, let the student “size-up” the value of each post-war era as he/she saw fit through historical comparison. Admittedly, I personally found it rather difficult to take an objective stance on the matter. Every session is packed with a plethora of examples on the particular lesson at hand, followed by a lengthy discussion about each example. The class is instructed in a manner that is intellectually stimulating yet not too formal so as not to strain one with over analysis of facts. It lets the student investigate the motives and cultural tie-ins of each art movement through numerous examples from each style of work, encouraging them, if not pushing them, to adopt a critic’s mindset. And in doing so, puts one center stage in judging the artistic validity of each artwork. The class is ideal for those who seek to understand the ideological and historical ramifications of various post-war artistic movements, including their source and influence on contemporary culture.
Moreover, it quite successfully engages the person with a background in politics and history in providing an artistic perspective to political and socio-economic movements. The course covers an array of international styles from abstract expressionism as exemplified by Pollock’s chaotic strokes — or rather “drips” — to European and Japanese Art Informel that superbly captures the horror and trauma of war that followed in the wake of World War II. And on to the veil of minimalist art that permeates today. Cruising beyond the satire and mockery of the bubbling consumer culture of the 60s and 70s as gleefully portrayed by pop art, Institutional Critique — the movement that challenged the autonomy and neutrality of the art institution itself — to the various waves of feminist art crusades, the course lets the student weigh in on the artistic.
Another engaging aspect of the class is that students are required to do “Museum walks”. Call them personalized field trips, if you will. Each student is expected to visit one of the museums in town (plenty to choose from) and surf through the halls with an open yet critically-alert mind. I found that it presents an opportunity for the student to bring with him/her what is taught in the classroom. And yes, you will need to write a report on it afterwards. Nonetheless, going beyond such trifles, the student, for once, gets a chance to temporarily purge the restless digital mirrors and leave behind the overworked PowerPoint slides to go out and have an artistic experience. To be walking between halls hopping from painting to painting, and to stand where the painter stood and try to re-imagine his/her train of thought. It does a job of reminding one the unique, unparalleled merits of actually stepping into a museum.
Art after 1945 turned out to be an invaluable experience. Every one of the classes I had encompassed exciting content that made me want to read and know more after I left the classroom while making me look forward to subsequent classes. With another semester coming to a near close, I can confidently attest that being part of the back-and-forth teaching process was one of the most enjoyable and informative classes I have taken thus far.