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The media revolution communicates through images as much if not more than through words. Strategies of interpretation and theories of visual logic are introduced.

The Art Institute of California, San Francisco is an art and design school catering to students who want to gain professional knowledge to quickly enter the marketplace. What this means for an art history instructor is teaching a group of students focused on their design program and uninterested in “four boring hours of memorizing slides”. As an instructor in both departments I have tried to combine my personal interests and background to create art history curriculum that will engage this specific population of students. By using examples of active learning, I have overcome some of the difficulties associated with creating an engaging classroom environment.

The first issue in designing class instruction involved the specific course competencies of the class. Instead of a traditional art history survey, I teach Visual Language and Culture, a broad overview of the history, culture and interpretation of art in the wider world. To accommodate the dissemination of this information, and to allow students to participate in discussions surrounding it, I designed a worksheet with a series of questions divided into relevant discussion topics. Each artwork is discussed in terms of Formal Analysis, Sociopolitical Relevance, Gender Race and Social Class, Art Historical Implications and Scientific Innovation and Influence. The same questions are used in each analysis so students can see the patterns and developments of the same ideas over time. The lectures are four hours once a week, giving ample time to discuss one artwork in detail (we cover 2-3 per class). This format also forces students to see art in a larger context, influenced by history and non-art events as well as the structure of the art market in different time periods. For students who are much more visual thinkers than potential art historians, this structure allows a space for them to absorb a few examples in greater detail and to relate them to the art making practice as a job with struggles and rewards, similar to their personal experiences. The question/ answer approach also allows me to engage the class throughout the lecture, as the critical analysis progresses through the topics.

While the worksheet provides the backbone for the class, the students use their knowledge in context through essays and creative projects. The final project for the class asks students to design their own gallery exhibition. They select a time period or theme for the show, research the artworks they would like to use and create a gallery guide to help the viewer as they “walk” through the exhibition. Again, for a group of design students, this project has been successful in promoting research skills, understanding the continuity of art through time or subject matter and is also a chance for them to use their skills in an active way. Some students have even pushed the envelope to create artist books and three dimensional models of their galleries. Because the themes are not necessarily chronological, students determine formal and conceptual links between different genres and materials. The installation creates a visual link between scale and interaction and how one perceives art within a predetermined space. As a teacher I would hope to instill in students an understanding of the importance of education for their own self improvement. I hope that they would begin to learn for themselves rather than for a teacher, parent or peer. I want them to become experts at asking questions and demanding thorough and useful answers. I would like to be able to share some of these ideas and join the discussion of engaging pedagogy through active learning.

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