Getting Artsy: a peek into my Art History classes

In 2017 I finally decided to start with Art History classes. A lot of people were surprised but interested in why I started taking these classes, and what I learned. In this blog post I will share the Why, Where and What of my art history class experience, and what my favorite lesson was.

Read on for a peek into my art history classes!

Why art history classes?

I discovered my love of art in my early twenties. I have friends that will enthusiastically tell you about the museums we have visited together and others that make it sound like a tortuous quest from Greek mythology. There is always so much to see, it is overwhelming! But I do love art…and wanted to understand better what I was looking at.

I also thought about taking drawing or painting classes. A family member quickly silenced that dream when he said you can throw €200 at something, but you can’t buy talent. My ‘fear of failure’ brain decided they may have a point… and decided on Art History class. They were just trying to save me disappointment, and in the end, I am very happy I did sign up for these classes!  

Kees van Dongen - vinger aan de wang 1910
Kees van Dongen – vinger aan de wang (1910). A favorite piece in the Boijmans van Beuningen museum.

How did I decide which class and where?

There is not much choice in Rotterdam when it comes to Art History. The choice was between ‘general art history’ at the community college and ‘highlights of art history’ at the SKVR (cultural centrum for the arts in Rotterdam). I chose to go for the highlights, as I hoped this would give me a good basic understanding of the movements in a certain period, and the masters in that period. The course is split into three semesters, each lasting 15 classes, covering ancient art up until modern art. I followed two semesters, covering mid-renaissance to modern art (1550 – 1970-ish). Unfortunately, the first semester did not have enough participants to go through, so I missed the ancient arts to early renaissance period.

The-Gleaners-Painting-by-Jean-François-Millet.-600x404 1857
The Gleaners, Jean François Millet (1857)

I can’t imagine Art History classes being interesting…was it?

It absolutely was!

My expectations were to be the youngest in the class, it to be a ‘sit-down-and-listen-and-take-notes-if-you-want’ situation. The reality met my expectations, but it was also so much more! First of all, I was never the youngest in the class, and the group consisted of a very diverse group of women (and one man, *hi Henk!*). Second, during most classes, I took a lot of notes but we also had discussions with our the group – as our teacher asked us to actively engage.

Art is a product of self-expression – whether from raw emotion or calculated rationale – it is always a reflection of the human experience. Some periods were less interesting to me, due to it mainly consisting of portraits. However, our professor taught us to look behind just the first impression. This, coupled with historical information opens up another way of looking at art, which I could not have done myself! I found a new appreciation for some art movements. Knowing more about the (idealistic) foundations of these movements allows me to understand it so much better. Usually, I would just look at it, not get it, and walk on. 

I have to say, the art discussed is quite Euro/Netherlands centric. I would love to have learned more about f.e. Latin American, Asian or African artists, which have made beautiful and valued contributions. Frida Kahlo? I would have loved to have learned more about her! I think this is something that is good to be mindful of, taking any course. That being said, I now have a basic understanding and can do my own research into my favorite art movements and their development in different countries.

The favorite lessons from my classes

I really appreciate the way our professor taught us to look at art (which consisted mostly of paintings). What is the artist trying to convey? Are they successful in delivering this idea? Which clues can you find about the subjects of the art piece? What does it make you feel? What do you focus on first – and why?

Apparently, most people only look at an art piece for a maximum of 9 seconds. It takes so much longer to really dissect a piece to learn the story behind it, to really get a feeling from it. The next time you visit a museum, try this: per room, pick one or two pieces. Then really study them – the colors, the composition, the lighting (if any), the subject matter. How does it make you feel? What do you focus on first? This will make it less overwhelming, and help you to engage more with the artwork!

Paul Gaugain, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (1892)

Fiery tips for anyone that wants to explore creative classes

If you, like me have people around you that will tell you that you can’t buy talent, do this first. Tell them *politely* that their opinion does not matter. And then sign up for that class! Whatever it is – you’ll be happier because you have the experience and made new connections.

Price wise: there is a lot available for different budgets. If you want to start small, why not try free lessons during an introductory week? Or sign up for a 2 class in-depth course? When I compared the two courses on a ‘euro-per-hour’ basis, my course was actually the better bargain, even though the total price was higher. In the end, the course cost €6.56 per hour, including a 2-hour museum class – which a pretty good deal!

In case you’re interested in Art History Class or other creative classes (mostly in Dutch, sorry):

  • SKVR – they also offer dance classes, drawing/painting, acting classes, etc.
  • Art History at Community College (Volksuniversiteit Rotterdam) – they offer classes about specific movements if you’re interested in learning only about the Romantic or Realist period f.e.
  • The full list of art movements on Wikipedia


Are you taking any creative classes right now? Or would you like to start this year? I would love to hear more about it – please share in the comments below!Flávia (2)

Interested in more lifestyle blog posts? Check out the Lifestyle category – full of posts about wellness, intentions, and books!


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