• Course Introduction

      • Time: 35 hours
      • Free Certificate
      This course is an exploration of visual art forms and their cultural connections across historical periods, designed for the student with little experience in the visual arts. It includes brief studies in art history, and in-depth inquiry into the elements, media and methods used in a wide range of creative processes. At the beginning of this course, you will learn a five-step system for developing an understanding of visual art in all forms, based on:

      1. Description: A work of art from an objective point of view – its physical attributes and formal construction.
      2. Analysis: A detailed look at a work of art that combines physical attributes with subjective statements based on the viewer's reaction to the work.
      3. Context: Historical, religious or environmental information that surrounds a particular work of art and which helps to understand the work's meaning.
      4. Meaning: A statement of the work's content. A message or narrative expressed by the subject matter.
      5. Judgment: A critical point of view about a work of art concerning its aesthetic or cultural value.

      After completing this course, you will be able to interpret works of art based on this five-step system; explain the processes involved in artistic production; identify the many kinds of issues that artists examine in their work; and explain the role and effect of the visual arts in different social, historical and cultural contexts.

      First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me in this course". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

    • Unit 1: Defining Art

      How do you define art? For many people, art is a tangible thing: a painting, sculpture, photograph, dance, poem or play. Art is uniquely human and tied directly to culture. As an expressive medium, it allows us to experience wide ranges of emotion, between joy or sorrow, or confusion and clarity. It gives voice to ideas and feelings, connects us to the past, reflects the present, and anticipates the future. Visual art is a rich and complex subject, and its definition is in flux as the culture around it changes. This unit examines how art is defined, and the different ways it functions in societies and cultures.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

    • Unit 2: Who Makes Art – Process and Training

      This unit explores artistic processes in their social contexts, covering individual artists turning their ideas into works of art, forms of collaborative creative projects, public art, and the role of the viewer.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

    • Unit 3: How Art Speaks – Finding Meaning

      Art asks questions and conveys meaning. It expresses ideas, uncovers truths, manifests what is beautiful, and tells stories. In this unit, we will begin to explore the meaning behind particular works of art within the context of various styles and cultures.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

    • Unit 4: How Art Works – The Principles of Visual Language

      In this unit, you will begin to learn the terms that used to describe and analyze any work of art, and you will explore the principles of design – the means by which the elements in a work of art are arranged and orchestrated. Just as spoken language is based on phonemes, syntax, and semantics, visual art is based on elements and principles that, when used together, create works that communicate ideas and meaning to the viewer. We can think of them as the building blocks of an artwork's composition – the organized layout of an image or object, according to the principles of design.

      Completing this unit should take approximately 8 hours.

    • Unit 5: Artistic Media

      Artists find ways to express themselves with almost any resource available. It is a mark of creativity to make extraordinary images and objects from various, but often somewhat ordinary, materials. Using charcoal, paper, thread, paint, ink – and even found objects such as leaves – artists continue to search for ways to construct and deliver their message. In this unit, we look at artworks created from two- and three-dimensional media and arts made using different types of cameras.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.

    • Unit 6: Architecture

      This unit explores architecture, its history, and its relation to visual art. Architecture is the art and science of designing structures and spaces for human use. Architectural design is an art form realized through considerations of spatial design and aesthetics. Related to sculpture, architecture creates three-dimensional objects that serve human purposes and forms visual relationships with the surrounding areas.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

    • Unit 7: Our World – Nature, the Body, Identity, Sexuality, Politics, and Power

      In this unit, we will look at how artists express and interpret our world. If nothing else, visual art provides an avenue for self-expression. As a primary source of inspiration, artists express attitudes, feelings, and sentiments about environments through personal experiences, social interaction, and relationships with the natural world. In short, art helps us perceive and react to our place in the world. In Unit 1, we referred to description as one of many roles art takes on, but this description is often imbued with the artist's subjective take on the world. In this unit, we will examine how art operates as a vehicle for human expression – a kind of collective visual metaphor that helps to define who we are.

      Completing this unit should take approximately 5 hours.

    • Unit 8: Other Worlds – Mortality, the Spirit, and Fantasy

      Humans use art to capture ideas about worlds outside our own. Art is often a vehicle for myth, which use narrative to convey truths about human nature. Art also expresses hard to articulate aspects of spirit worlds which are products of religious practices. Cultures use iconography to symbolize abstract ideas like dreams, love, power, and emotion, and societies call on the artist to create them. Art also plays a significant role in ritual and ceremony. In this unit, we will learn how human thought, belief, and imagination are materialized through art.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

    • Course Cumulative Essay

    • Unit 9: Art in Time and Place – The Western World

      The formal and stylistic aspects of artworks are often determined largely by the era and location in which they were created. In this unit, we will study art through its evolution in time and place in the Western world. You will develop the tools you need to identify the major formal and stylistic trends punctuating the timeline of Western art history. This approach will enable us to see the relationship between works of art and their specific social-historical contexts. This unit will also reveal a certain continuum that runs through Western art from Ancient Greece to modern times.

      Completing this unit should take you approximately 12 hours.

    • Study Guide

      This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

    • Course Feedback Survey

      Please take a few minutes to give us feedback about this course. We appreciate your feedback, whether you completed the whole course or even just a few resources. Your feedback will help us make our courses better, and we use your feedback each time we make updates to our courses.

      If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org or post in our discussion forum.

    • Certificate Final Exam

      Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

      To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

      Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.

    • Saylor Direct Credit

      Take this exam if you want to earn college credit for this course. This course is eligible for college credit through Saylor Academy's Saylor Direct Credit Program.

      There is a new version of this course as of June 2023.

      The current Saylor Direct Credit Final Exam for this course can be found in the updated version, here: ARTH101: Art Appreciation.

      Please enroll in the new version of the course to access the exam.