Why Art? How AP History Uses Art

“Birth of Venus” by Botticelli

Art is perhaps one of the most fundamental human expression in history. From primitive cave drawings to postmodern paintings, art is an elemental expression of how people and cultures see themselves and the world around them.

Through analyzing images, students are introduced to concepts far deeper than textual primary sources. Images carry and depict arguments concerning gender, class conflict, politics, and/or religion. For these themes, multiple-choice questions and DBQs (Document Based Questions) ask students to think critically about various mediums of art.

Students must understand the subject of the art, the period and culture from which it derived, and the deeper analytical elements. Perhaps one of the key analytical skills one must develop is the identification of the POV (Point of View). In short, POV is the perspective or bias of the author. Does the author dislike religion? This will then be cast in a negative way. Does the author believe kingship is supreme? If so, then the painter’s work will likely display this belief.

Identifying POV in all primary sources, including art, is a most important (and elusive) skill that students must develop and practice. Start early and ask various questions of the sources and art one looks at.

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