Is Art History Becoming Too Woke?Roundup
tags: Yale, academia, art history
Is art history becoming too woke? Several news outlets asked me to comment on the decision by Yale University to stop teaching their best-known art history course, apparently on the grounds that the artists it covered were “overwhelmingly white”. Did I not think this was yet another case of political correctness gone mad?
To my shame, I’m not always averse to commenting on such stories, but on this occasion I declined, and thank goodness; the story wasn’t quite fake news, but it wasn’t genuine either. Yes, Yale was changing its art history courses, but not for the reasons alleged. Investigating further, I found that the “overwhelmingly white” quote did not come from Yale’s art history department. It came from coverage by Yale Daily News, apparently citing “student uneasiness over an idealised Western ‘canon’—a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight European and male cadre of artists”. A statement issued by Yale’s art history department explaining the course changes made no mention of race, sexuality or gender. (And, in any case, no historian of the Italian Renaissance would describe it as a product of the overwhelmingly straight.) The pretext for much of the overwhelmingly negative, international press coverage of Yale’s decision was, therefore, erroneous. It was just art history’s turn to feed our need for a daily outrage.
Writing in The Art Newspaper, professor Tim Barringer, chair of Yale’s art history department, said that because “art history is a global discipline”, it made little sense to offer a first year introductory course, which suggested that the history of art was reflected almost entirely in Western art. On this level, Barringer’s logic is hard to disagree with. The new courses, including Global Decorative Arts and Global Sacred Art, sound interesting.