professor
Anna Ratner Hetherington

Jun 2014

Unfortunately, it seems that Professor Hetherington will not be teaching Masterpieces of Western Art in the near future. This is unfortunate because Anna has been one of the better Core teachers—and, certainly, one of the top art humanities instructors—I've come across. Her teaching was effective and always energetic. Above all, however, she constantly urged students to validate their interpretations about works viewed in class and outside of class by clearly stating and arguing using the visual evidence at hand (an informal version of the socratic method, if you will.) While, at times, this reminded me of high school, I realized that Columbia students, being the quick thinkers that they are, can often overlook the smaller details in their race to develop a sound and insightful conclusion. I saw myself and my classmates do this throughout the first few weeks, and each one of us had to decondition ourselves to be able to build up our thoughts from the basic elements of the work. Anna's focus on our development of critical thinking about art meant that the class did not cover the art-historical context of many of the artists and art work discussed in class. However, I agreed with Anna's argument that becoming adequate readers of art was a greater benefit to us than becoming knowledgeable about the history and context of a selection of 10 artists and their work. For this reason, all of our assignments and exams were, largely, formal analyses, and class discussion centered around extracting the important ideas involved each artwork viewed. If you're looking for an introductory course to western art history with an instructor who assigns heavy reading, lectures a majority of the time, and places more importance on fact recall, Anna's class may not be for you. If you're looking to gain valuable thinking skills about art from an instructor who has a lot of care for your individual experience with art beyond the scope of the class, Anna's class is definitely for you. And I, personally, highly, highly recommend taking her class if you have the chance. You won't regret it.