Understanding the Visual Arts

Course Number: ART 102
Transcript Title: Understanding the Visual Arts
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: June 6, 2017
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 40
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 0
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: Yes
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit
Repeats available for credit: 0


MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121.

Course Description

Introduces aesthetic, historical, and critical issues of the visual arts. Presents aspects of drawing, painting, sculpture and craft in terms of experiencing, appreciating and understanding these aspects in our lives. The series ART 101 and 102 may be taken in any order. Prerequisites: MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

Upon successful completion students should be able to:

  1. Recognize formal qualities in two and three dimensional arts and read visual elements, artistic and cultural styles, and symbols.
  2. Appreciate and communicate individual viewer response, the uniqueness of a work, its origins and precedent, its potential as an inspiration and influence on later art, and its relationship to a particular cultural moment.
  3. Decipher the visual arts through understanding of historical, social, cultural, economic, and political contexts.
  4. Generalize course content to other art not covered in the course so that he/she can understand and value the visual arts in all-encompassing global ways.

Alignment with Institutional Core Learning Outcomes

In-depth 1. Communicate effectively using appropriate reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. (Communication)


2. Creatively solve problems by using relevant methods of research, personal reflection, reasoning, and evaluation of information. (Critical thinking and Problem-Solving)
3. Extract, interpret, evaluate, communicate, and apply quantitative information and methods to solve problems, evaluate claims, and support decisions in their academic, professional and private lives. (Quantitative Literacy)


4. Appreciate cultural diversity and constructively address issues that arise out of cultural differences in the workplace and community. (Cultural Awareness)


5. Recognize the consequences of human activity upon our social and natural world. (Community and Environmental Responsibility)

Outcome Assessment Strategies

The student will:

  • Comprehend, apply, analyze and evaluate reading assignments
  • Identify artwork, and relate facts and ideas about these works of art in exam format
  • Research, plan, compose, edit and revise short papers
  • Keep journals assessing learning development in and out of the classroom
  • Participate in class field trips

Course Activities and Design

Note: the following assignments are not proscriptive, but meant to illustrate a diverse, successful set of course activities.

Assignment 1: Reflection on modern artist: Students study and analyze modern artist’s work and write reflection using visual arts language, interpreting cultural styles, symbolism, and content of work.

Assignment 2: Mandala Project: Students study formal and cultural elements in the practice of making mandalas as an art form.  Students create their own mandalas incorporating personal symbols, colors, radial symmetry and write an essay explaining the content of their mandala.

Assignment 3: Personal Choice Power point Presentation: Students select a chapter, studying and researching the historical, social, cultural, economic and political context of their chosen period of art. They present their findings in a power point presentation of images, and information and then quiz their classmates with discussion questions based on their presentation.  

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)


  • Theory and criticism in the history of art
  • Pattern-based thinking and historical process
  • Various interpretations of art
  • Art and gender
  • Creativity and the impulse to make art

Stylistic and Interpretive

  • Visual literacy
  • Art media and artistic technique
  • "Seeing and knowing"
  • Iconography
  • Formal principles and elements of fine art

Social and Cultural

  • Other peoples and their histories, values, and culture
  • Art and economics
  • Art and the social fabric
  • Art and religion
  • Art and politics
  • Art and gender
  • Relationship of culture and style
  • Art and cultural transmission
  • Historical impact of art
  • The influence of art on one's own culture
  • The influence of art on relations with other cultures
  • Art and artists
  • The impulse to make art
  • The Gestalt of art
  • The role of the artist in society
  • Biography
  • Geography and its influence on art and culture
  • Artifact recovery, analysis, restoration, and incorporation into a larger historical fabric

Competencies and Skills:
The successful student should be able to:

  • Work creatively with art historical data, using it to develop principles of art history
  • Recognize and appraise patterns in historical phenomena assess the ways in which an art object is affected by our own vantage point
  • Recognize and discriminate among various styles of art
  • Trace the development of art from one period to another
  • Analyze formally works of art and appreciate the interrelationship of its elements
  • Determine symbolism in art
  • Employ iconographical nomenclature
  • Express the relationship of art to society and culture to style
  • Analyze the "meaning" of art objects through understanding of historical, social, and political context
  • Use specific terminology to describe works of art
  • Transfer to a four year college and continue a course of study in the field of art history, fine art, anthropology, and history in general

Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills:

  • Oral and written command of college level English