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?



“but they’ll never close the door behind them”

When we start talking about art and technology, particularly the internet (no caps!), we run the risk of quickly outdating ourselves. Rather than taking a historical approach to the subject, which, I admit, is quite boring, I followed the trajectory of our Thursday discussion and rediscovered this exhibition, which was in the news last year. That’s right, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY, held an exhibition of cat memes! Between this and Kara’s observation about Ai Weiwei’s and Andy Warhol’s love of cats, perhaps felines are emerging as another latent motif in our class.

The curator of “How Cats Took Over the Internet,” Jason Eppink, took the genre of cats on the internet to surprisingly academic heights. The exhibition debunks the myth that images of cats have taken over an obscene amount of cyberspace, which I think is often cited as anecdotal evidence of our society’s general intellectual decline, and perhaps, as suggestion of our need for escapism. The show also takes an inclusive approach to the theme by also including memes of other animals from around the world. As artist/writer/blogger An Xiao Mina astutely observed, llamas are surprisingly overrepresented globally. One of the examples should be familiar to us – it was the song that Ai Weiwei sang and danced to at the end of Never Sorry. Here it is in its original glory with accompanying imagery and translations:


So what is it about images and videos of animals that we draw us to them? I suppose the simple answer is that we love our pets and other animals, and enjoy sharing images of them. There’s also the suggestion that there’s something biologically programmed in us that gravitate us toward cute things. But as suggested through the various politically geared animal memes such as the Grass Mud Horse and the “I will kill…” green chick, we find something revelatory, perhaps an ability to capture our ethos, in images of anthropomorphized animals – both cute and pathetic.

I remember being shown my first cat meme by a classmate in 2007 and thinking she was weird for finding it funny.


The cheezburger cat still doesn’t make any sense to me but its historical value, having stayed relevant for almost a decade now, is undeniable. Because of cheezburger cat, we have…

grumpy cat:


cute/manipulative cat:


and “breaded” cat:


What are your favorite memes? Do they feature anthropomorphized animals? Post them on this blog. 

This is not a meme but close enough to the topic:

PSA: you can afford the Met

If you don’t already know this, the Met has a sliding-scale, pay-as-you-wish admission structure. Yes, as the article mentions, the ticket counter staff may give you the side eye when you elect to pay less than the recommended (now “suggested”) amount, but what this wonderful policy allows you to do is drop in for a quick visit and not feel guilty about not seeing EVERYTHING.

Welcome to our blog, students of 339!

This space is created as a supplemental platform for sharing, discussion, and other forms of intellectual inquiry. This is your chance to comment, analyze, and critique topics about “global contemporary art” in the world around us. The posts should, whenever possible, extend class discussion. Feel free to create posts that build on issues, themes, topics and questions that emerge from our limited in-class time. While it’s fine to just focus on a set of readings, try to make connections with new material you read. The posts can build on art-related news that you encounter through various media outlets (see About for links), they do not have take external sources as material; they can simply be your thoughts regarding specific issues that relate to our class.

You’re certainly welcome to post as frequently as you would like but two substantive posts and two substantive comments on different posts your classmates started are the minimum requirement for this course. A post should be approximately 3 paragraphs, and a comment, 2 paragraphs. Quality matters more than quantity. Add media such as images and video, as well as tags. I’ll assess these various contributions holistically.

I hope the availability of this alternative venue for dialogue would stimulate in-class discussions as they relate to our readings, and encourage you to think more deeply about contemporary art that you see and read about in the media or encounter in your life. Happy posting.