Why study art history? Before tackling this necessary question, it may be worthwhile to reflect on another prerequisite question, so we may have an even more complete picture before us: what is art? Only then can one adequately determine whether art be useful and, if so, how?
With the beholding of any piece of artwork, comes abstract ideas beyond just what is observed and represented. Part of the experience also takes into account the subjectivity and emotionality of the artist, and above all else, the person whom he observes. Whether we understand the work or not, art activates our experiences in us and creates a stimulus to reflect.
So, why study art? Here are just a few reasons why art history can be so significant.
Art expands our cultural knowledge. Art by nature is multidisciplinary, since it covers many aspects of human life. It has references to history, religion, mythology, literature, chemistry, and technology, just to name a few. Unfortunately, nowadays, art may often seem boring or difficult to understand, because we have lost the ability to decode many of the deeper messages underlying the works. However, the more we study it, the more it can serve to broaden our thinking.
Knowing art means understanding its value. With knowledge of the work comes a full appreciation of it, and a willingness to preserve it. An example of this can be seen in the portrait of the biblical David. Without the precautions taken to protect the statue during World War Two, perhaps we would only ever come across this well-renowned sculpture in school books.
Art improves attention, analysis and cognitive functions, as well as gives the mind elasticity in making connections between the various disciplines. Carefully observing even the smallest details also aids concentration, allowing us to more fully “enter” the work.
Art improves our mood. Research shows that when we look at a work of art, we release dopamine, a hormone that regulates mood and gives feelings of pleasure and fulfillment, similar to falling in love. Our brain reacts very positively to the beauty of art through these “feel-good” transmitters that are stimulated.
Art can make it easier to talk about our faith. From a strictly Adventist worldview, knowing and studying art can be an effective tool of evangelism, as it can serve as food for thought for people looking for answers or who simply want to learn more about the Bible. When used positively, it can help seekers of truth better visualize some biblical concepts or stories. For centuries, the Catholic Church used art such as Biblia Pauperum in churches to instruct and educate the crowds who could neither read nor write.
Art brings us closer to God. Through images, we can freely delve into spiritual concepts even as we reflect on the words of the Bible. Placing art at the core of any spiritual meditation exercise also gives us the opportunity to see God as our Creator and Master Artist, especially as revealed through His own creative working in our lives. The more we draw near to God, the more we can begin to embrace not only the artistic gifts He has given us, but His overall greater Design for the world.