Third Blog by Taylor Simard
Virtual Intern – Loss of Generality
January 28, 2021
Introduction to the Author
My name is Taylor Simard, and I’m a 20-year-old student living in Canada. I study at Carleton in Ottawa, and double-major in Humanities and Art History, which both follow my life-long passions for books and art, and I’m completing a minor in Biology.
I’ve learnt a lot throughout university. The humanities program boasts the fact that they produce thinkers like no other program can, and I believe they have good founding for that, as I prove it more and more myself every day. I started out my university career in only this program; I was in love within the first week. There’s nothing like studying the literature of ancient civilizations and realizing that they’re just as ridiculous and emotional and funny as we are today. There’s something special about realizing the creators of great works of art are just people responding to their circumstance, and I know I’ll never stop learning about the funny quirks of ancient people’s that make them geniuses through the lens of time. In my second year of school I added a major in Biology, I thought maybe I’d become a physiotherapist if my arts dreams never fleshed out, it was like my back up plan. I’m too passionate a person to rely on a back-up plan, though, and instead I found a second love; within the humanities curriculum there was an art history year-long course that covered the emergence of art to the contemporary. I feel in love all over again with studying art, and I decided to drop the biology major to a minor, since it wasn’t my passion, and add an art history major instead. All of this was a mess by my third year, but I still added the major, even though it meant I’d have to add another year to the end of my degree, which was undoubtedly worth it.
And now you’re all caught up. I’m living through my third year of university in the time of Covid-19, and it’s hard, really hard compared to the love that I found in a classroom, the ease of chatting with professors about silly things after a confusing class. But it’s getting better, we’re all figuring out how to learn remotely, and how to teach remotely, and how to find our happiness in studying remotely. The world isn’t going to go back to being the same after this, we’re going to have to learn and adapt, and it’s quite possible that I’ll have to finish my degree partially online, but we’re getting better, and hopefully, that’ll be okay. I know that me and my generation are stepping into the world and the workforce in a very uncertain time, but I have faith in the world’s adaptation to the virtual, and I know that I’m following my passions, and I believe that everything will work itself out.
Last term in the Greek Art and Archaeology class I took, our major assignment was a thoroughly researched annotated bibliography and source summary. The goal of this assignment was to teach us to do high-quality research, and properly format bibliographies, as well as identify the different controversies between scholars on subjects. One of the other things our professor wanted us to take away from this course, though, was that scholarly sources are better than websites. Now, at this point in our university career, everyone already knew this, but nonetheless, we had to find two separate web sources and compare them to our scholarly ones. My first source was Wikipedia, and this was obviously a bad source, but my other source came from a website called Smarthistory.
This website is honestly my favourite. See, it’s in no way inferior to scholarly sources, because the people that are making the videos are both scholars as well. I was doing my assignment
on the Siphnian Treasury Frieze at Delphi, which has a relative amount of controversy around it. But, I can say that out of the six relevant scholarly sources I read, there was very little of relevance that wasn’t mentioned in the smart history video. Of course, there were some smaller details missing considering they were condensing all of the relevant information into a twelve-minute video,
but generally, they cover all the information that is needed in understanding the cultural relevance of this frieze. Compared to the scholarly sources I read, there were maybe a few theories missing, like the idea that the helmets in the gigantomachy scene represented the ally states of Peisistratos, but theories like that aren’t as valuable as learning an overarching history is.
Some of my favourite art pieces are ones that I learnt about primarily through smart history. My friends and I would study for a test together the
night before and binge watch smarthistory videos and discuss them after, a lively discussion I might add. See, we love finding the humour in art pieces, it helps us to remember them better. The video about Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel fresco paintings is one of my favourites. It’s only six minutes long, but it manages to capture so much important context. They explain the most important nine scenes, lining the center of the roof, with old testament scenes lined by scenes of predictions of Christ’s coming. But there are also some interesting and also rather funny things within this video and the small text that accompanies it. For one, Michelangelo only used male models for his figures, so all of his painted women look impossibly muscular, and this was likely because Michelangelo presumably preferred men. There’s also the fact that it’s possible that he did not want this commission, putting his work up where no one would see it, but the pope forced him. Because of this, he spent most of his time complaining, and the rest of his time hiding tiny details into his paintings that would bother the pope if he saw it, like showing God mooning the people below it.
In my first class in art history, my professor – who is incredible – showed us smart history and encouraged us to use it as a studying resource, because she knew the value of the videos they create. Smarthistory is a non-profit, associated with Khan academy, and it runs primarily off of donations. They are always uploading new videos, going over both artistic movements within time periods and specific pieces, giving viewers a thorough understanding of the artworks they’re studying. They have videos from the prehistoric eras to contemporary pieces, spanning all across the world, making their videos useful to just about every student in every class. They describe painting, sculpture, architecture, and any and all other art forms with equal professionality. It’s so clear that they run on passion, you can hear it in their voices as they talk. With all of this, though, I can’t help but wonder at the fact that only some of my art history professors actually tell their class about this resource. I wonder if it’s maybe because of the pre-existing idea that the arts are elite, and they want their students to have to work harder than that.
This all goes to say that done well, with photos and interactive images, virtually learning the arts is incredibly easy, and can be done very well. Some of my friends aren’t even in art history, but they watch these videos for fun. Because art is fun, and virtually, the joy of understanding a complex and entertaining piece of art can be spread. They are concrete proof that the arts can be taught virtually, that you don’t need to be viewing a piece in person to enjoy it. This is an excellent remote resource, and it should be spread and given the chance to teach students all over the world about art, cultivating passion. Admittedly, it’s not the same as having a professor teaching you, but it’s proof that with enough effort, it’s what virtual learning could become: an entertaining and engaging journey through a piece of art.
Here is the link to smarthistory’s website, if anyone is interested: https://smarthistory.org/