Learning history through a different lens: AP Art History

Sabrina Dong

Come this fall, students will get to “draw” themselves a new understanding of art and culture all while “brushing” up on their historic knowledge. Advanced Placement choices will expand with the addition of AP Art History (APAH), taught by fine arts teacher Susanne Maxwell.

The new class will be a blend between history and art and will teach students about multiple forms of art, while letting them delve deeper into how major historical events have influenced culture.

Junior Eileen Bettinger works on a project in AP Studio Art Class
Junior Eileen Bettinger works on a project in AP Studio Art Class

“APAH offers students the chance to connect their love for the arts with world history and culture. It is a unique balance of academic study and a studio based exploration of methods and materials,” said Maxwell. 

Maxwell said that the class is sparking the interest of  art students and history fans alike. Part of the course’s goal is to help students who are interested in art gain a deeper knowledge of their craft.

“The real purpose of the class is that it offers students, who are really into the arts, the opportunity to go into more depth in their practice,” Maxwell said.

In addition to art students enriching their learning, Maxwell believes the course will also appeal to people who love history and are interested in looking at it through an artistic lense even though they may not consider themselves artists.

“It allows the kid who might love the arts, but not be an AP Studio Art or Honors student the opportunity to do something at a higher level, a deeper level that engages them in all of the arts,” Maxwell said.

Junior Ines Schwartz is one of these students. A history fan, she is interested in taking the APAH class because she wants to look at history from a different perspective.

“I don’t do art, I like art but I just never tried art class,” said Schwartz. “I’m interested in taking APAH because I think it would be a fun way to synthesize all the history I’ve been learning in visual form. History is an interesting class and it’s cool to see it through a different lense than just through writing and documents.”

Though the class will definitely integrate various art projects in each unit, the goal of doing the art is to create a hands-on experiences that bring the material to life.

Senior Leo Cooperband finger paints in AP Studio Art
Senior Leo Cooperband finger paints in AP Studio Art

“Each unit will have art that connects to what was happening at that time. For example, in the Indigenous Americas Unit we’re looking at doing pottery. For the Renaissance Unit we’re going to be doing Madonnari Street Painting and sidewalk chalk drawings. The South East Asia unit examines shadow puppets and storytelling. We’re doing a mosaic piece for the Roman Era Unit and some photography for Modern Art, “ Maxwell said, “You don’t have to be a master artist to excel in the class, it’s more about experiencing arts as they connect to the unit.”

Some students like junior Jake Hanssen were inspired to take the class after seeing Maxwell’s enthusiasm for it.

“I’m not a big fan of art but I’m a big fan of history. I went to the informational meeting and Ms. Maxwell showed us that we’ll be studying art and then proceeding to create it or be given some kind of hands on exercise that relates to what we’re learning about. It seems like something that Ms. Maxwell’s really passionate about and something that’s fascinating to me,” Hanssen said. 

Senior Haley Bjursten works on a painting in AP Studio Art
Senior Haley Bjursten works on a painting in AP Studio Art

The district currently offers a regular Art History course at Drake, but Maxwell and other colleagues have been working to bring an AP version to the district.

The class is offered for juniors and seniors with the prerequisite of one year of Fine Arts The class’s curriculum will be based on AP guidelines and will help students be prepared for the AP Test, which includes multiple choice and essay questions based on analyzing art and its historical relevance. The AP test will also ask students information on specific pieces of art. The students will need to be able to identify the artist, the era it was created in, its historical significance and more.

Overall, Maxwell and the fine arts department are very excited to take on this new course and are thrilled to delve into subject matter that interests her on a deep level.

“The bottom line is we in the arts are pretty darn passionate about art history. We love it,” Maxwell said.