New Course Encourages Students to Become Art Historians

Posted: January 16, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Have you ever wondered what the view would be like from the top of Machu Picchu, the Incan site in Peru built around 1450? How about looking up in the sky at La Danta, one of the largest pyramids in the world built by the Mayans?

Students enrolled in Michele Greet’s new class, ARTH 204 Survey of Latin American Art, will take a virtual tour of many ancient ruins and survey major developments and innovations in Latin American painting, sculpture and architecture. Beginning in the pre-Columbian era, the course will cover Aztec, Mayan and Incan art, art of the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru, as well as trends in 19th- and 20th-century Latin American art.

The introductory course is open to anyone who has even a slight curiosity in Latin American art. Students will begin a process of investigation of an area that is oftentimes written out of history, the instructor says.

“I wanted to teach this class because I want to give students an appreciation of the richness of various objects and artistic production from different cultures,” says Greet, professor of History and Art History. “Hopefully, it will encourage students to become more interested in the thinking process and pursue future study of Latin American art.”

Michele Greet
Art historian Michele Greet
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Throughout the semester, students act as art historians by sleuthing out the origins of an artifact or work of art. Each week, an image will be presented, and students must use a visual process of elimination and various online resources to analyze the details of the artwork. This process will help students understand how art historians work in the field and, according to Greet, allow them to feel more connected to the piece.

The class will begin by introducing students to different forms of pre-conquest Latin American art such as ceramics, sculptures, ancient jewelry, feather-making and textiles. Greet will then lead the class in a discussion about some of the prejudices and preconceptions of Latin American art. Students will also take a virtual tour to distant lands to see Incan stonework and the Aztec pyramids.

Students will then move on to the colonial era and examine pieces of art that blend the traditions of the indigenous cultures and the Spanish. This will help illustrate how the different cultures came together and how they were modified. For example, some of these artworks will include images of Christ (a figure that appears frequently in Spanish cultural references) made of feathers (material commonly used in Latin American art).

The last part of the class will move into 19- and 20th-century art with a focus on the republican era and art relating to social protest and the modern city. This portion of the course will also explore how Latin American art distinguished itself from European traditions.

Students will have a choice of visiting the Museum of the American Indian, which has a collection of Aztec, Mayan and Incan artifacts, or the Philadelphia Museum, which has a display of artwork by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In the museum, students will not only study artwork and artifacts, but also observe how the museum presents the exhibition and how it shapes their understanding of the artwork.

For more information, contact Greet at

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