Media Resource

Smarthistory: Art, History, Conversation

Smarthistory is an NEH-funded digital humanities project that offers free resources on art, history, and art history for classrooms and public enjoyment. Curated by scholars from around the world, users will find videos, essays, and insightful commentary about thousands of pieces of art.

Noted in their mission, Smarthistory believes "art has the power to transform lives and to build understanding across cultures. We believe that the brilliant histories of art belong to everyone, no matter their background." In addition to ideas for classroom use, this resource provides links to the NEH's Picturing America project, art history lesson plans, and other NEH-funded projects that seek to bring art history to the public. 

Why Art Matters

Why look at art? This video from Smarthistory addresses the importance of art, what art communicates, and how we make and convey meaning through art. 

  • Why is art important?
  • How and what does a particular image communicate with viewers?
  • Other than in a museum, where have you seen art?
  • What is your favorite type of art?
An Introduction to Art History
  • What is art history?: Smarthistory provides an overview of the field and related professions. 
  • Analyzing Art: Dr. Robert Glass provides insight into the skills and knowledge one engages with when analyzing works of art. 
  • Goya’s Third of May, 1808The founders of Smarthistory, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, model an analysis exercise using Spanish painter Francisco Goya's Third of May, 1808 (now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). The work commemorates Spanish resistance against Napoleon Bonaparte's armies during the Peninsular War. 
Must Art Be Beautiful?

The PBS Digital Studio video entitled "Art Must Be Beautiful" examines the meaning of beauty, how philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Hume and others have discussed beauty, and how beauty has been debated and valued over time. 

  • What are the expectations of an artist?
  • How have philosophers discussed beauty over time?
  • Is beauty objective or subjective?
  • What is aesthetics? 
  • What is meant by a "freedom of spirit"?
  • Is beauty relative? important?
  • Must art be beautiful?
Lessons on Art & Culture

EDSITEment offers lessons, classroom activities, and media resources for teaching about art history and culture within the humanities for grades K-12. 

Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series: Removing the Mask: In this lesson, students describe and analyze Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57 (1940-41), Helene Johnson’s Harlem Renaissance poem “Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem” (1927), and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s late-nineteenth-century poem “We Wear the Mask” (1896).

Composition in Painting: Everything in its Right Place: In this curriculum unit students will be introduced to composition in the visual arts, including design principals, such as balance, symmetry, and repetition, as well as one of the formal elements: line.

Romare Bearden's The Dove: A Meeting of Vision and Sound: In this lesson, students will learn to appreciate the artistic and intellectual achievement of Black artists in America in the first half of the 20th century. By listening to music, students will see how art and music intersect to tell us a story.

Picturing America: Wyeth & Rockwell: Use a short video to examine what the juxstaposition of N.C. Wyeth's cover illustration for The Last of the Mohicans and Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" reveals about the heroic positioning of two male figures. 

Through the Looking Glass: Transparency in Modern Architecture: Used as an architectural material first by the Romans, the production of glass declined in the fifth century only to return as a decorative artform (stained glass) in Renaissance ecclesiastical architecture. Analyzing the use of glass in modern architecture provides students an opportunity to examine the intersection among modern technology, economics, and culture.