If I say I stare at art all day will you stop asking?

We’ve heard it all before: “Why would you want to major in Art History? Why would you major in something that won’t get you a job? Do you just stare at art all day?”

Yes (sort of). Barnard describes the department as, “…the history and practice of visual creativity. All people, at all times, around the world, have expressed their identities and their beliefs through visual art…Both our history and studio courses train students to observe the world more closely and interpret what they see. In our history courses, students study how art has occurred at the intersection of personal, technical, and social forces. In our studio courses, students learn to engage those forces using media ranging from traditional drawing to digital design.”

The major has two tracks: Art History and Art History with a Visual Arts concentration. For all you artists out there, this is the major for you! If you are hopeless at drawing like me, this major is also for you, just not the Visual Arts track! Both majors examine how art has shaped the world, through political expression, social interactions, gender relations, and religious beliefs. Internationally, art is an incredibly unique feature of humanity, and the major explores how this came to be. Why did people create art when there was literally no purpose to it, and how did it come to be the realm of expression it is today? Why does humanity value art? What is the theory behind these questions?

The current co-chairs of the department are Elizabeth W. Hutchinson and Joan Snitzer (director of the Visual Arts program).


Art History with an Art History Concentration
The Art History Concentration is divided into three parts: the Intro Sequence, the Elective Sequence, and the Senior Thesis Requirements.

The Intro Sequence
BC1001 (Fall) and BC1002 (Spring) Introduction to Art History

  • Introduction to Art History I covers Art History from prehistoric times to the Renaissance. While many may be uninterested in ancient art, this class is a wonderful survey of how art represents cultures we know little to nothing about. It’s a preview of the materials accessible, the rituals and religions of ancient cultures, and how some of the earliest forms of writing were preserved through art. In Fall 2022, this class was taught by the wonderful Gregory Bryda, who is one of the best professors I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from. I’ve never had a lecture that encouraged such discussion and exploration of art, and he included selfies of himself with the monuments we were studying. So good.
  • Introduction to Art History II covers Art History from the Renaissance to today. This class is normally taught by the amazing Anne Higonnet, known for her amazing lecturing style and amazing fashion taste. Every class started with an analysis of a modern piece of art, and how it relates to or references an older art piece. For example, the pieces displayed at Barnard by Kehinde Wiley include references to Renaissance art conventions in a modern setting.

The Elective Sequence
The Elective Sequence is a great way to find your passions within the major! All majors must complete seven elective courses, including two seminars.

  • The electives and seminars must concentrate at least one course in three of the four following time periods: Ancient (up to 400 CE/AD), 400-1400, 1400-1700, and 1700-present.
  • The electives and seminars must concentrate in at least two of the three following world regions: Africa, Asia, and the Indigenous Pacific, Latin America/Caribbean/Indigenous Americas, and the Middle East.

This may seem like a lot of requirements, but do not fear! You can double count a lot of these. For example, an ancient art class could examine the ancient art of a specific region. Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture examines art from Latin America, and from 1400 CE to 1700 CE. The seminar requirements are a bit tricky: there’s very few of them, and you have to apply to get in. Not ideal for sophomores.

Senior Thesis Requirements

  • BC3970 Methods and Theories of Art History: This is not the thesis seminar! This is an additional course recommended during your senior year.
  • BC3959x and/or BC3960y Senior Research Seminar: From my understanding, students can take a one semester or two semester long senior research seminar, depending on their research goals or timeline. If students are doing the one semester seminar, it builds off of a previous research paper started in a seminar elective.

Art History with a Visual Arts Concentration
The Visual Arts Concentration follows a similar pattern to the Art History Concentration, but has more visual art classes. Duh. Disclaimer: I am not a Visual Arts major, so I will do my best to outline this track. However, I do not have specific recommendations for classes beyond the shared classes with the Art History Concentration.

The Intro Sequence

BC1001 (Fall) and BC1002 (Spring) Introduction to Art History

  • Introduction to Art History I covers Art History from prehistoric times to the Renaissance.
  • Introduction to Art History II covers Art History from the Renaissance to today.

The Elective Sequence

  • One Seminar Course in Art History
  • One 19th, 20th or 21st-century elective course in Art History.
  • Two elective courses in Art History
  • Three elective courses in Visual Arts-Studio

Junior Spring/ Senior Spring Requirement

  • BC3031 Imagery and Form in the Arts

Senior Visual Arts Thesis Project

  • BC3530 Advanced Senior Studio I (Fall)
  • BC3531 Advanced Senior Studio II (Spring)
    • The Senior Thesis involves the creation of an original piece of work and written requirement.

Class Recommendations and Overview

This major may seem like it has a daunting amount of regional and time period requirements, and it does! However, if you knock them out of the way early on it will make your life so much easier your junior and senior year.

Intro I and II: Yes, it’s required, but you can take them out of order! If possible, take Intro I with Bryda. He is genuinely such an incredible and caring professor.


  • AHIS-BC2698: American Monument Cultures
  • AHIS-UN2405: Twentieth Century Art
    • Fulfills the 1700 to present requirement.
  • AHIS-BC3675: Feminism and Postmodernism in Art History
    • Fulfills the 1700 to present requirement.
  • AHIS-UN2702: Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture
    • Fulfills the regional Latin American requirement and the 1400 CE to 1700 CE requirement.

I have heard wonderful things about all the professors in the department, but Gregory Bryda, Anne Higonnet, Elizabeth Hutchinson, Rosalyn Deutsche, and Alexander Alberro have been incredible during my time at Barnard. I also shopped a class with Johnathan Reynolds once and didn’t end up taking it because of a schedule conflict, but he was a brilliant lecturer and I look forward to taking a class with him!

If I had to describe the Art History department at Barnard in one word, it would be lovely. The department is small, but that just means the professors are incredibly kind and wonderful lecturers. They make art come to life by bringing humanity and context to the subject, and are always willing to connect with students. The department provides such diverse course options that I would recommend anyone who has even the slightest interest in art take at least one class. Not to sound like an Art History major or anything, but art is such a fascinating way to look at international cultures and values, and recognize patterns that we see in society today. Also, you’re required to explore museums to write about art piece, so if you need an excuse to visit museums, this is the major for you.

Yeah That’s Art! via Wikimedia Commons