Revisions to AP Art History


A fairly recent article in The Atlantic caught my eye for its relevance to our course. The governing body of the AP Exams, the College Board, is revising its curriculum to be inclusive and globally focused. I’m sure you guys remember the AP exams fondly…Anyhow, the board invited a group of art historians to narrow down the comprehensive history of art around the world to a list of 250 works. Of the 250, according to board,

Roughly 65 percent of the course content is still art considered within the Western tradition. Now, 35 percent—around 87 artworks—come from “other artistic traditions.”

Is 35% too much, too little, just right? This is, of course, highly debatable, but as indicated by the choice of words, “other artistic traditions,” the selection of what these “other” artistic traditions are may be as revealing as their percentages of representation.

The article does a nice job of giving context to AP board’s revisions. The art world, especially museums – arbiters of taste and “good” art – are notoriously white at the staffing level. A whopping 79% of those who self-identify as “curators” are white non-hispanic. The articles also discusses both historical (Gorilla Girls!) and more recent efforts of institutions toward diversifying themselves in areas of exhibition, acquisition and staffing. One particular interesting example is Denver Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition, “Women of Abstract Expressionism.” In our class we’ve been guilty of referring to Abstract Expressionism as monolithic entity comprised of iconic white artists whose established standards for art has unwittingly excluded the varied expressions of other groups of artists for subsequent generations. It’s important to remember that seemingly stable histories, especially those that we anchor our critique on, can also be more complex than we think.

One last point that I want to focus on is the AP’s decision to continuously change the curriculum of 250 works so that the list is up-to-date with our shifting cultural values. This makes me reflect on the purpose and longevity of artistic canons, and by extension, the longevity of a course like ours. We’ll suppose that this curricular change is successful and that passing AP students will gain proficiency in these works. If more and more high school graduates are entering college with an expanded notion of art history, would we be preaching to the choir with courses such as ours?

Questions to ponder and to respond to in the comments section:

What are the benefits and drawbacks of establishing a core of 250 works for ALL students in the country?

I recall that some of you have taken AP Art History in high school. How was your experience?

For everyone: would these changes significantly impact your understanding of art going into college? Would you have even made different decisions about where to go to college and what classes you took in college?



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