CollegeBoard's Big Ideas of AP Art History

Big Idea One: Artists manipulate materials and ideas to create an aesthetic object, act, or event. 

This concept deals with the broad practical and philosophical aspects of art. If you understand this idea, you should be able to answer this question: What is art and how is it made? You should be able to describe many different aspects of an artwork – its medium, its form, its function, its impact, and its context. You should be able to think and write about why an artist made a work in a particular way.

Learning Objectives

  • Students differentiate the components of form, function, content, and / or context of a work of art.
  • Students explain how artistic decisions about art making shape a work of art.
  • Students describe how context influences artistic decisions about creating a work of art.
  • Students analyze form, function, content, and / or context to infer or explain the possible intentions for creating a specific work of art.

Big Idea Two: Art-making is shaped by tradition and change. 

This is one of the main principles of the history of art. Every culture and every time period has different artistic practices, and it can be incredibly interesting to learn about the diversity of art across time and space. The main question in this unit is this: Why and how does art change? If you understand this idea, you should be able to tell a coherent story about the history of a particular kind of art. For example, can you explain when, why, and how impressionism arose in the tradition of modern art? Most questions about the direct history of art deal with this big idea.

Learning Objectives

  • Students describe features of tradition and / or change in a single work of art or in a group of related works.
  • Students explain how and why specific traditions and /or changes are demonstrated in a single work of art or in a group of related works.
  • Students analyze the influence of a single work of art or in a group of related works on other artistic production.

Big Idea Three: Interpretations of art are variable. 

If two people walk into a museum and look at a piece of art, they almost never agree on the exact meaning of the artwork. If they did, it would virtually be a miracle – two people looked at a certain arrangement color and space and came to the exact same conclusion. All the differing interpretations are partly why art is so interesting and valuable – it reveals our inner diversity. If you understand this big idea, you should be able to answer this question: How do we describe our thinking about art? On the AP test, you need to be able to write your ideas about what an artistic work, using references to the artist, the history, and the nature of the piece to interpret the art.

Learning Objectives

  • Students identify a work of art.
  • Students analyze how formal qualities and / or content of a work of art elicit(s) a response.
  • Students analyze how contextual variables lead to different interpretations of a work of art.
  • Students justify attribution of an unknown work of art.
  • Students analyze relationships between works of art based on their similarities and differences.



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