Where Does Art Come From?
Leah McCurdy, Arlington, Texas
Copyright Year: 2022
ISBN 13: 9781648160042
Publisher: Mavs Open Press
Conditions of Use
Made specifically for a global art history course, this resource is different from traditional art history textbooks. Unlike conventional surveys of global art, it is organized thematically rather than chronologically or geographically. The... read more
Made specifically for a global art history course, this resource is different from traditional art history textbooks. Unlike conventional surveys of global art, it is organized thematically rather than chronologically or geographically. The themes are based on “human questions” that are answered by objects from a variety of non-Western cultures that best relate to the theme. Each culture is not covered as a discrete whole. This approach is fresh and novel but makes it difficult to evaluate the question of comprehensiveness. The focus is primarily on the cultural contexts of the objects. It lacks the component of formal analysis found in more traditional art history textbooks. The textbook does not have an index or glossary. I did find that the introduction to the Western Canon of art history presumed some prior knowledge.
I am not an expert in all of the objects and cultures covered by the textbook, however, the information provided in the textbook seems to be accurate and error-free. It does have an explicit bias to break away from the Western canon of art history to provide a more inclusive view of art. It prioritizes indigenous traditions from the point of view of decolonization. This bias is discussed in the introduction to the textbook. In my opinion, an instructor who adopts this resource would need to subscribe to the same priorities.
The textbook is quite up-to date. The sources are timely and represent current thinking in the field. The introduction states that necessary updates to the text will be relatively straightforward to implement. The introduction also explains that the authors will even consider adding excellent student research papers or projects if they are sent to them.
The textbook is purposely written in an informal tone that avoids academic jargon. The informality makes the text clear and accessible. The downside of this is that students are not introduced as effectively to the language of art history as they would be in a more-traditional textbook.
The textbook is consistent in its pedagogical framework and use of terminology.
Due to the thematic structure of the textbook, I think it would be difficult to carve it into modules to adapt to a differently-organized course. For example, in a more traditional course, an instructor might cover a unit on the art of Mesoamerica. The information about art from Mesoamerica in this course is distributed throughout the thematic units. It would be challenging to extract the information. It would be possible to reorder the themes. They do not follow a particularly discernible logic.
The textbook has a clear introduction that explains the authors’ approach to designing the textbook. Beyond the introduction, it is broken into thematic chapters. These chapters do not seem to seem to follow any particular internal logic, except the chapters on key life events are ordered chronologically. I don’t think this is necessarily a weakness of the textbook, depending on an instructor’s plan for the course.
I did not encounter any interface issues. The navigation in the online text version was straightforward and easy to understand. The course has many links in it, which are easy to use.
I did not encounter any grammatical errors.
The textbook is inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds in the authors and in its content. This is a key goal of the resource, as described in the section “Where does art come from? An introduction.” Many authors contributed to writing the course, which helps to expand its inclusiveness.
As shared before, the focus of the book covers subjects within the scope of particular cultures as needed by the course it was designed for. I would say it was mostly appropriate. I couldn’t seem to find a glossary or index. Some information... read more
As shared before, the focus of the book covers subjects within the scope of particular cultures as needed by the course it was designed for. I would say it was mostly appropriate. I couldn’t seem to find a glossary or index. Some information instead is covered through the chapter, “How to Read this Book & Land Acknowledgement” but having an organized glossary and index would be especially helpful.
To my knowledge, content seems accurate. The delivery of information does seem to pull readers into very specific conclusions, but this may be due to the nature and needs of the course it was created for.
This text consistently works to associate the topics with questions that are relevant to today’s reader in the US. Beyond art history, this book, while approaching broad topics and bringing great context to the table, has a specific focus for the artwork covered, so it probably would not be the only textbook to be used in a general art history or art appreciation course. In the about section, it is clarified that the text was created “for the UTA core curriculum art history introductory course” which is ART 1317 “Arts of Africa, Asia, Islam, Oceania, and the Indigenous Americas.” This is meant to tell specific stories and perspectives of the mentioned cultures and religions only. However, Judeo-Christian faiths are mentioned in contrast to other religions, but assume prior knowledge of the reader; so if you do not have a basic understanding of those belief systems, you can end up with a kind of “caricature” of how those faiths operate.
What is also interesting is how much cultural, historical, and historical background is given to provide context into a region. Sometimes at the risk of trailing off topic, but I think this context really helps the reader overall in understanding how an artwork “fits” within its time and place.
This book seems very clear as well as accessible to it readers. Context and definition are often given to new terms and concepts.
This felt consistent from chapter to chapter, and terminology and framework often repeated as needed.
One could probably try to read select chapters without reading previous chapters, however the text does make reference to prior reading (eg. Maize God of the Olmec is referenced a few times after it is introduced in earlier chapters). Outside references and resources were included throughout. I reading the online publication, the incorporation of video as well within chapters is a great resource and addition.
Instead of focusing on a particular era or culture or style, each chapter covers a particular topic or question that can be addressed through art.
For instance, the chapter “what is Divine” uses a variety of examples of art from different cultures to demonstrate how these cultures and religions have answered such a question. This is a refreshing layout, however I do wish there were a more structured introduction or perhaps wrap up to each chapter. When looking at multiple examples over a chapter, it can help to have key points (maybe bullet points) drafted out. On that note, I do like the links provided at the end of each chapter, allowing for further learning of a topic.
Something I had not seen before was the use of digital illustrations to represent some artworks, due to licensing. It was not a issue to click links to visit the full image of the actual artworks elsewhere but it was a curious choice ( a downside being that some links are no longer available to view.) The incorporation of video as well within chapters is a great resource and addition.
To the best of my ability, I did not notice any grammatical errors.
What is also interesting is how much cultural, historical, and historical background is given to provide context into a region. Sometimes at the risk of trailing off topic, but I think this context really helps the reader overall in understanding how an artwork “fits” within its time and place. This focuses on specific cultures, due to the nature of the course it was designed for.
I would specify that the book has more of a social, possibly political, and anthological focus, rather than a general study of art. The example essays at the end give a good demonstration of how this focus shapes the views and topics of that particular course. While not a replacement of text for a general art course, this would be a great book to direct students to for a better scope of how art tells us about society, especially those that are not always recognized in more western-focused books. I definitely plan to incorporate some of the content into my AR115 Intro to Art course next year, as many of the artworks and cultures are ones we cover in our current textbook. A reframing of content and more context and historical background (both offered by this textbook)is helpful!
Table of Contents
- About the Publisher
- Accessibility Statement
- About This Project
- How to Read this Book & Land Acknowledgment
- 1. Where Does Art Come From? An Introduction
- 2. Where Are We Going?
- 3. Who Am I?
- 4. What Is Divine?
- 5. What Is Beautiful?
- 6. What Is Important to Us?
- 7. Will You Tell a Story?
- 8. Who Came Before Us?
- 9. Where Do Babies Come From?
- 10. What Happens When We Die?
- 11. Why Does Size Matter?
- 12. What Will I Get Out of It?
- 13. Why Do They Have More Than Us?
- 14. Why Do I Have to Do What You Say?
- 15. Why Do People Take What Doesn't Belong to Them?
- 16. Can We Live Together?
- 17. Neheb is Dead by Emery Martinez-Blas
- 18. We will Never Be Perfect and That's Okay by Celeste Smith
- 19. The Post-Colonial Igbo Identity by Chinamerem Ahuchaogu
- Image Credits
- Accessibility Rubric
- Timelapses for Transformational Sketches
- Errata and Versioning History
- Mental Maps of Art History
About the Book
Contributors to this open textbook offer relatable descriptions, details, and contexts of artworks from around the world, which have often been relegated to the peripheries of art and social history. Art traditions from Africa, Oceania, South and Southeast Asia, Islamicate regions, East Asia, and the indigenous Americas (before colonization) are prioritized to challenge the long-held view that “real art” only comes from the West. Introductory discussions of the history of art history and geographic conventions set the stage for considering the larger question, “where does art come from,” and other questions such as, “why haven’t I heard much about art from Africa, Oceania, etc.?” This book takes a pluralistic approach, forefronting diversity and interconnectedness. Scholars and students collaborated to produce this book. Student contributions will continue to improve the text and interactivity as it evolves. A scavenger hunt of student-made “easter eggs” builds a thread of engagement and humor throughout the book. Make sure to find them all!
About the Contributors
Dr. Leah McCurdy (she/her) is an anthropological archaeologist and art historian focused on global visual traditions. Her scholarship focuses on ancient Maya architectural and construction histories while her expertise via graduate education and professional experience spans visual traditions across the ancient Americas, Africa, Islamic lands, South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, as well as Egypt and Western Asia. McCurdy has been teaching in higher education for 10 years, covering art history, anthropology, and archaeology. McCurdy develops courses with an applied focus, promoting awareness about cultural traditions, heritage, pluralism, and global citizenship. In all courses, she seeks to increase understanding about diverse art historical traditions while enhancing critical thinking and pluralistic perspectives on the world. McCurdy has been teaching ART 1317 and upper-level art history courses at UTA since 2017.