How to Look at and Understand Great Art

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing art insights A truely great learning experience taught by a remarkable instructor
Date published: 2020-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction -- why not more from her? I very much enjoyed this introduction to art course with Dr. Hirsch. There are two things that would have made this a five-star course for me. The first is if there had been a little more time spent on 20th century works. It felt like that got rushed through at the end of the lectures. The second thing that would have helped is if the screenshots of the art works had included some on-screen notes to the size of the work, the collection, the media, and the date it was produced. I know Dr. Hirsch did some of this orally, but it's sometimes hard to remember the details when also trying to pay close attention to some element in the work she's pointing out verbally. I really enjoyed the professor's presentation style and how she emphasized that there is value in all styles and periods of art. I was disappointed to find this is her only Great Course. Maybe now that she is retired, you could bring her back for more?
Date published: 2020-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I didn't know anything about art but was interested to learn something new. Instructor was clear and thorough and I found myself eager to learn more.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Content Exactly the in-depth content I was looking for with exceptional images and lecturer. If I don’t remember anything, I have enjoyed the wide variety of art so far.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good presentation Hopefully traveling to Rome and Florence next year. I want a more in-depth appreciation for the art. So far the lectures haven’t disappointed.
Date published: 2020-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I knew a little about art but the professor in this course takes understanding and interpreting art to a new level. She makes everything clear and easy to understand with excellent examples and explanations. You will no longer look at art the same way after taking this course.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have made hundreds of museum visits around the world and read many books about Western Art. Although this course is aimed at an absolute beginner in appreciating Western Art and enjoying visits to art museums, I was attracted to the idea that it might shake me out of my habitual ways of appreciating art in museums [extremely thorough, systematic and with a lot of historical research], and give me some new ways to think about and enjoy what I was seeing. For me, it did that very well. There are other wonderful art appreciation courses in The Teaching Company collection that do, in fact, go along more with the way I usually view art in museums. However this course focuses not on art history per se, but on the museum visitor's experience. I thought that was a very interesting, and overlooked, focus. I loved that the instructor created tools and encouraged the visitor to use them to form impressions of a work before reading the tag or catalog - since I tend to read that information first! I loved that she kept coming back to the same works used as examples in previous lectures, but this time explored a completely different aspect that made you see it with new eyes. For the first half of the lectures, I kept consulting the handbook to find out which city/museum housed each work shown - which is my usual cataloging way to look at art. But by the second half, I didn't feel the need to do this any more; I was more comfortable with forming impressions of works using her tools without feeling the need to catalog them all for myself. I watched quite a few of the lectures more than once, as she had quite a few insights that surprised me. When she got to art from the mid-20th to 21st century, the technique of coming back to works again and again from different angles really paid off for me, as it eventually created enough familiarity to let me start to open up to some appreciation I had not had before of certain types of contemporary art. The instructor did go through Western Art movements in historical context, and painting and sculpture techniques, but her focus throughout was not on memorizing or completeness. Rather, it was in helping students be active and engaged when in a museum, with tools and games that they can customize for themselves that can leave them with many "ah-ha!" moments that will enrich their experience and enjoyment of art. Well done!
Date published: 2020-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great explanation and selection of examples!i I enjoyed the course from the beginning through the final lesson. It was a marvelous experience of learning for which I thank the leacturer, professor Sharon Latchaw Hirsh. I had seen other courses of he kind, but this was unsurpassed in depth and length. Again, my personal gratitude to the lecturer for her charming and vivid way of explaining rather complicated topics that made studying works of art set in the course a real adventure of high aethetic pleasure! The lecturer combines both profound conceptional and practical approaches. The course immensely broadened my knowledge and provided me with useful tools of understanding the European art in general and differences of its stylistic epoques in particular.
Date published: 2020-06-27
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How to Look at and Understand Great Art
Course Trailer
The Importance of First Impressions
1: The Importance of First Impressions

Examine the contexts and environments in which we encounter art and their critical effect on our viewing experience. Consider ways of displaying and framing paintings, as well as key parameters for viewing sculpture. Then, learn the predominant genres of Western art, and the artist's media, tools, and techniques....

34 min
Where Am I? Point of View and Focal Point
2: Where Am I? Point of View and Focal Point

Explore how point of view-the artist's positioning of the viewer with respect to the image-works in painting and sculpture, paying particular attention to differences in angle and spatial relation. Then, continue with focal point, or the artist's centering of attention on a key area of the work....

30 min
Color-Description, Symbol, and More
3: Color-Description, Symbol, and More

Uncover the core principles of color in painting, including the distinctions of value and saturation and the relationship of colors as analogous or complementary. See how major works of art achieve their power and meaning through color, as seen in celebrated canvases by Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh....

29 min
Line-Description and Expression
4: Line-Description and Expression

Discover the properties of line, another essential element of art, as "descriptive" (describing reality) or "expressional" (conveying feeling). Learn about the use of geometric lines, implied lines, and directional lines within a composition. Also, study the compelling, psychological use of line in Picasso's works, Seurat's The Circus, and in key Modern and Expressionist works....

30 min
Space, Shape, Shade, and Shadow
5: Space, Shape, Shade, and Shadow

Examine geometric and "organic" shapes in painting and sculpture and the crucial relationship of figure to ground and mass to space. Then, explore the illusionistic use of shading, shadows, and overlapping shapes in Caravaggio's and Friedrich's works, and the compositional power of shapes in paintings such as Matisse's Dance and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam....

30 min
Seeing the Big Picture-Composition
6: Seeing the Big Picture-Composition

Define symmetry and asymmetry in painting and sculpture, and the key effects on the viewer of each. Also, study scale and proportion of figures, and the distinction between "open" and "closed" composition, reflecting the artist's approach to visually framing the image....

30 min
The Illusion-Getting the Right Perspective
7: The Illusion-Getting the Right Perspective

Tracking the history of illusionism in Western art, grasp the principles of linear perspective, foreshortening, and atmospheric perspective as they replicate how the human eye perceives. See how artists, including Cezanne and Van Gogh, manipulated perspective for their own creative ends, and observe the extreme illusionism of trompe l'oeil and anamorphosis....

29 min
Art That Moves Us-Time and Motion
8: Art That Moves Us-Time and Motion

Explore how artists evoke motion and the passage of time, including implying motion through strong directional lines and time through narrative devices. Study approaches to implied motion in Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Op art, and the use of actual motion in performance art and modern sculpture....

29 min
Feeling with Our Eyes-Texture and Light
9: Feeling with Our Eyes-Texture and Light

Here, consider texture in sculpture as an aid to meaning in sculptures by Rodin, Donatello, and Bernini, and the painter's use of paint as a way to capture texture and light on canvas. Then observe the virtuoso representation of texture by master painters Ingres and Titian, and the handling of light and shadow in works by Renoir and Georges de la Tour....

29 min
Drawing-Dry, Liquid, and Modern Media
10: Drawing-Dry, Liquid, and Modern Media

In this first lecture on genre, define the various purposes of drawings, from "croquis" drawing to capture a pose or action, to successive sketches visualizing larger works, to finished drawings as a distinct art. Study the diverse media of drawing, focusing on master drawings in metalpoint, charcoal, ink, pastel, and pencil....

31 min
Printmaking-Relief and Intaglio
11: Printmaking-Relief and Intaglio

The medium of prints attracted great artists from Dürer and Rembrandt to Ensor and Picasso. Using studio demonstrations, study the expressive means and contrasting techniques of relief printmaking, including woodcut, wood engraving, and linocut, and intaglio printmaking, including metal engraving, etching, mezzotint, and aquatint....

33 min
Modern Printmaking-Planographic
12: Modern Printmaking-Planographic

This lecture explores the art of planographic printmaking, which allows artists to draw or paint directly on the printing surface. In detailed demonstrations and works by Daumier, Degas, and Warhol, grasp the techniques of lithography, silkscreen, and monotype, and explore the mastery of Whistler's lithograph Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea....

29 min
Sculpture-Salt Cellars to Monuments
13: Sculpture-Salt Cellars to Monuments

Sculpture, as a genre, encompasses the full spectrum of three-dimensional artworks. In this lecture, investigate the varieties and viewing contexts of relief and in-the-round sculptures-from monumental public works and religious and historical subjects to assemblage, collage, found objects, and large-scale "earth art"-noting the technical distinction between subtractive and additive work...

31 min
Development of Painting-Tempera and Oils
14: Development of Painting-Tempera and Oils

Trace the history and technique of painting, beginning with the methodology of panel painting on wood; fresco painting, both wet and dry; and finally, oil painting and watercolor. Learn about types of oil paint, the mixing of colors, brushwork techniques, and the 19th-century phenomenon of plein air (outdoor) painting....

29 min
Modern Painting-Acrylics and Assemblages
15: Modern Painting-Acrylics and Assemblages

The lecture opens with a historical panorama of painting techniques, highlighting the diverse treatment of human faces. Then, it tracks 20th-century developments in nontraditional materials and methods of application, including the techniques of Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jackson Pollock, as well as the contrasting strengths and mixed use of oil and acrylics....

31 min
Subject Matters
16: Subject Matters

Focusing on masterworks by Van Eyck and Rubens, define three levels of iconography (subject matter). Also study the academic codifying and ranking of subject matter in art, probing subject and deeper meaning in a variety of religious and history paintings, still lifes, landscapes, portraits, and genre works....

30 min
Signs-Symbols, Icons, and Indexes in Art
17: Signs-Symbols, Icons, and Indexes in Art

The richness of signs (signifiers) in art includes the use of symbols, icons, and indexes as they reveal layers of meaning. See how, in different historical eras, symbolic associations change over time, how icons visually represent a subject, and how indexes exhibit direct connections with the thing signified....

32 min
Portraits-How Artists See Others
18: Portraits-How Artists See Others

In examining the diverse functions and types of portraits, study the important elements of facial presentation and the subject's position and gaze with relation to the viewer and the pictorial space. See how Rembrandt added dramatic power to his group "corporation" portraits, and how David carefully rendered Napoleon in symbolic terms....

32 min
Self-Portraits-How Artists See Themselves
19: Self-Portraits-How Artists See Themselves

Across the centuries, self-portraits fascinatingly reveal the changing role of the artist. Follow this progression, from Renaissance painters subtly placing themselves within large compositions, to self-portraiture's emergence as a major form of self-revelation, noting many dramatic and colorful traditions within the form....

31 min
Landscapes-Art of the Great Outdoors
20: Landscapes-Art of the Great Outdoors

In this lecture on landscape painting, observe the classical, balanced division into foreground, middle, and background, and how Romantic painters altered these proportions to express drama, infinite space, and the sublime. Discover proportion and composition in landscapes of the Hudson River school, Luminism, Impressionism, and also the subgenres of seascapes and cityscapes....

32 min
Putting It All Together
21: Putting It All Together

This lecture integrates elements including color, line, shape, composition, light, symbolism, point of view, and focal point. Using the viewing tools you've developed, look deeply at four diverse masterpieces, including a sculpture by Thorvaldsen, a "vanitas" still life by Van Oosterwyck, a lithograph by Bonnard, and a painting by Van der Weyden....

31 min
Early Renaissance-Humanism Emergent
22: Early Renaissance-Humanism Emergent

Contemplate the Renaissance phenomena of classicism and humanism in 15th-century Italian art, which focused-even in religious art-on the human body, nature, and depictions of earthly life and the individual. Learn how to recognize Early Renaissance art in characteristic subject matter and stylistic technique....

28 min
Northern Renaissance-Devil in the Details
23: Northern Renaissance-Devil in the Details

Flanders and Germany also witnessed an explosion of art in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Define the stylistics of great Northern Renaissance oil painting, such as the use of cool light, richness of detail, and the depiction of fabric. Conclude by charting the development of the historical "canon" of universally recognized artworks....

31 min
High Renaissance-Humanism Perfected
24: High Renaissance-Humanism Perfected

The Italian High Renaissance saw the full flowering of humanism and classicism. With reference to the era's thought and practice, delve into masterpieces by three of history's greatest geniuses: Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Last, explore the composition of Raphael's School of Athens as it represents the sublime embodiment of High Renaissance ideals....

31 min
Mannerism and Baroque-Distortion and Drama
25: Mannerism and Baroque-Distortion and Drama

Two important artistic movements followed the High Renaissance. Beginning with late Michelangelo, Tibaldi, and El Greco, explore the hallmarks of Mannerism, including deliberate distortions of proportion and perspective and use of tertiary colors. Then, in the works of Caravaggio, Rubens, and others, define the essence of Baroque art in its dramatic, exuberant expansion of classical style....

31 min
Going Baroque-North versus South
26: Going Baroque-North versus South

Baroque style flowered in key regional variations. See the influence of the Counter-Reformation in southern Europe in dazzling religious images intended to excite and teach. Grasp the classical ethos of French Baroque and the Dutch diversity of subject matter and dramatic use of light and space in the North....

31 min
18th-Century Reality and Decorative Rococo
27: 18th-Century Reality and Decorative Rococo

The sensuality of Rococo art mirrors 18th-century upper-class lifestyle and sensibility. Explore the evocation of intimate hedonism in Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, and other Rococo masters, specifically through their imagery of lovers, social life, and pastoral pleasure. Then, define Rococo style in its graceful curves and characteristic use of paint and color....

29 min
Revolutions-Neoclassicism and Romanticism
28: Revolutions-Neoclassicism and Romanticism

The early 19th century saw the emergence of two compelling and highly contrasting styles. Referencing the art of Napoleonic painter Jacques-Louis David, discover the tenets of Neoclassicism, specifically its ordered composition and emphasis on stoicism, morality, and rational control. In works by Eugène Delacroix, find the spirit of Romanticism and its concern with dramatic proportions, emo...

32 min
From Realism to Impressionism
29: From Realism to Impressionism

In canvases of Millet, Courbet, and Manet, observe the Realist ideals of honesty, simplicity, and descriptive colors in revealing contemporary experience. Then, explore the phenomenon of Impressionism, highlighting Renoir, Monet, and Degas-their fascination with natural light, quest to capture the moment, and iconic subject matter of middle-class leisure life....

32 min
Postimpressionism-Form and Content Re-Viewed
30: Postimpressionism-Form and Content Re-Viewed

The term "Postimpressionism" comprises a varied and highly innovative body of art. Here, learn how Postimpressionist painters such as Cezanne and Seurat were driven by what they perceived as a loss of form in Impressionist art. See also how Symbolists Gauguin and Munch used increasing abstraction to convey deeper psychological meanings....

31 min
Expressionism-Empathy and Emotion
31: Expressionism-Empathy and Emotion

In defining the bold sensibility of Expressionism, explore its use of violent colors, stylistic distortions, and sculptural application of paint. Also contemplate its influences (including contemporary philosophers as well as Freud) and its goal to provoke empathy and thus touch the viewer at the innermost level....

32 min
Cubism-An Experiment in Form
32: Cubism-An Experiment in Form

Investigate the visual elements and the three phases of this hugely influential movement, based in its geometric fracturing of forms and multiple, interlocking meanings of line and shape. Find borrowings and echoes of Braque's and Picasso's Cubism in diverse 20th-century painters and experiments in Cubist-derived sculpture....

30 min
Abstraction/Modernism-New Visual Language
33: Abstraction/Modernism-New Visual Language

Abstraction and Modernism forged a daring new definition of art, breaking dramatically with the past. Discover the philosophical and experiential underpinnings of abstraction and nonrepresentational art, now radically freed from imitating nature. Encounter art's new language in visionary works by Kandinsky, Marc, Pollock, De Kooning, and others....

31 min
Dada Found Objects/Surreal Doodles and Dreams
34: Dada Found Objects/Surreal Doodles and Dreams

Contemplate the "anti-art" spirit of Dadaism, its nihilistic yet humorous indictment of civilization and bizarre use of unconventional media. In the sensibility of Surrealism, observe its compelling focus on the subconscious and two substyles-dream imagery, with its juxtaposition of objects and settings, and "automatic drawing," eliciting unplanned images from the unconscious....

31 min
Postmodernism-Focus on the Viewer
35: Postmodernism-Focus on the Viewer

In the 1960s, Pop art, Op art, and minimalism brought yet another far-reaching redefinition of art. Learn to recognize these three distinct postmodern visions, and see how they shared a common rejection of the traditional focus on the artist, aiming instead to create works that exist only for the viewer's interpretation....

29 min
Your Next Museum Visit-Do It Yourself!
36: Your Next Museum Visit-Do It Yourself!

The final lecture opens with a detailed and thought-provoking guide to museum-going. Consider ways of making the most of visits to permanent collections and special exhibitions in both large and small museums. Conclude with a sumptuous review involving masterworks from the many eras, movements, and schools you've looked at....

34 min
Sharon Latchaw Hirsh

At Rosemont College we seek 'joy in the pursuit of knowledge.' I believe learning new ideas, or realizing something on your own brings joy. I create my lectures to stimulate this experience by making them as enjoyable as possible.


University of Pittsburgh


Rosemont College

About Sharon Latchaw Hirsh

Dr. Sharon Latchaw Hirsh has served as president of Rosemont College since 2006. She completed her undergraduate degree in the history of art and studio art at Rosemont and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in the history of art from the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Hirsh's awards include the Charles A. Dana Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Ganoe Award for Inspirational Teaching, and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching from Dickinson College. She served as a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and as a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado, the Swiss Institute for Art Research, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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