Why Art History is Integral to Catholic Education

Many academic institutions and programs incorporate art studies for many decades now. These studies range from studying various forms of art, the different periods of art, and pure appreciation (and analysis) of it. One of the fields of art study is art history – a well-known field that exposes students to the cultural richness, diversity, and social context behind works of art throughout time.

Christian art is a very rich aspect of art history. The study of the Catholic faith is closely interwoven with the study of Christian art and its history. The icons and depictions in Catholicism illustrate Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, saints, and scenes from the Bible. These are in the form of huge paintings, sculptures, and various forms of art. Pieces of Christian art have aided the Catholic Church in forging its identity and helping its followers have a firmer grasp of the Catholic teachings. 

With all its forms and sizes, tracking down the evolution of art throughout the course of history, whether within a Catholic education or any other study, is inevitable. Students in each class travel back in time to each period and century. From here, we can see how they are brought to examine the techniques, format, style, and intent, among others, that governed each artists’ collective work and piece.

Despite the looming threat of budget constraints within the academe, art history in the field of Catholic education continues to exist – and for good reason. Looking closer, we can identify some points that show why integrating art history in Catholic education remains to be of great importance:

  • It reinforces connections. Art can be a powerful means to represent abstract concepts, such as faith. As it becomes a tool to visualize and imagine ideologies and doctrines that the Catholic Church embraces, it can create a connection between the believer and the religious belief. To students belonging to a Catholic education curriculum, art history serves to reinforce this connection. When we expose them to a timeline that allows a view of the cultural and societal context behind each work of art, they are given a chance to understand and correlate ideas of theological importance.
  • On yet another level, art history also serves to reconnect the student to his society. Socioeconomic gaps narrow down, where education and learning become accessible to students from all walks of life. This glaring reality is very much evident in the study of art and art history. Learning about the works of Romanesque artists or that of art during the Byzantine Empire is made possible by a Catholic education curriculum that continues to embrace art history.
  • It serves as a reminder. As art history brings to light the timelessness of each artists’ work, students are reminded that their lessons transcend the bounds of time. A good example is one of the most reproduced paintings in the world: The Last Supper. Depicting the final meal with his disciples before Christ was captured, this creation of Leonardo Da Vinci has been viewed by many generations. In the light of a Catholic curriculum, we can infer how its popularity can elicit more than just plain curiosity among students. It serves to encourage students that learning is a continuous and endless process.
  • It urges critical thinking. Each religious artwork that falls under the Catholic purview is often deemed as enigmatic as the faith itself. We are presented with varying degrees of mystery and symbolism, accompanying paintings created in different eras. In the same manner, studies in art history enrich Catholic education and the minds of their students. After all, it is a study that points out the distinct techniques and trends used in each time period. This way, students get to exercise critical thinking and deepen their intellectual understanding of the factors surrounding each masterpiece.
  • It creates deeper appreciation. In addition, art history’s intrinsic role comes alive as it gives more meaning to the students’ art appreciation. Because beyond our usual interests on the beauty portrayed by each work of art, students of art history stand to gain so much more.

In the case of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for example, they see beyond the painting’s aesthetic grandeur. They become familiar with its elements and visualize an artist who used each technique available to convey a message within his work. More than seeing a decorative aspect of the Church sanctuary, they experience and view the artwork with a deeper understanding of its purpose. A lesson in art history then presents students with a one-of-a-kind emotional reward.

Indeed, art history continues to significantly bridge the past with the present, as it continues to play an important role in our society. Particularly, for Catholic education, art history proves its integral role in shaping the students holistically. For one, it stands to reinforce societal and human connections. It keeps students grounded and more reflective of the reality behind life’s continuous learning process. Similarly, art history acts as a motivational tool that further deepens each student’s intellectual immersion in the field of education. And finally, the study of art history stands to inspire students as it creates a unique and rewarding personal experience for each of them. 

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