A Beginner's Guide to the Humanities

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9780130193742: A Beginner's Guide to the Humanities

An ideal supplemental text for any undergraduate course in humanities, or Introduction to the Arts. Helping students learn how to observe, enjoy, think about and feel in response to the arts, this practical beginner's guide to appreciating and experiencing culture gives students a handy introduction to the world of arts that they can carry with them. Self-contained chapters provide an essential companion guide to understanding a specific art-i.e., painting, sculpture, music, theater-with concisely defined key terms one should know, as well as a clear and insightful explanation of its process of creation.

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From the Back Cover:

This guide assists readers through their encounters with the best in human culture and creativity. Each chapter concisely introduces an art form through its historical or social importance, its essential vocabulary, and its important styles or artists. From there, each chapter leads readers through the unique experience of the art and ends with a companion guide which focuses on questions to ask, terms to remember and a reminder that readers should think and feel for themselves.

In each chapter:

  • The Tool Kit
  • A glossary of everything the reader needs to know about a particular art form
  • Style Guide
  • Important styles or principal artists
  • Step-by-step directions to guide the reader through the experience of an art
  • A Companion to the Art

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I remember beginning to play basketball at age eight, a game I still play twice a week, rickety knees and all. My dad handed me a basketball and told me to throw it as high as I could against the garage wall. He wanted to see if I could reach the ten-foot rim. I must have done okay, because he went right out to dig the post-holes in the backyard for a basketball goal. I played my best games on that goal in the Winter moonlight, dribbling on a frozen mud court.

Think of this handbook as the garage wall and postholes for a different game—a lifelong enjoyment of the arts. It's easy for folks to think they don't measure up to high culture. They're intimidated by the orchestra in white tie and tails, or the hallowed silence of a museum. They're puzzled by the painting they see on the walls or by the drama where nothing seemed to happen. And opera—isn't that fat ladies singing?

If it's confidence you lack, this handbook offers a gentle push through the door of that museum, theater, or concert hall. Once your fanny's in a seat at the Met or you're wandering the Louvre, this guide will deepen your experience of the moment. It teaches you to observe and enjoy, to think and feel in response to the arts. And afterwards at the bar or coffee-shop, or reading the museum guide or a newspaper review a day later, you'll find you speak the critical language of the arts. You'll know you're in the game when you find yourself in conversation with friends and family, and someone asks how you know all that.

Maybe I'm the person to give you courage because I started where many of you do—as a beginner. I was reared in a small-town family that hardly ever ventured to the big city for culture. The first real play I remember was my sister's high school musical. I wandered through some museums in college, but as a literature major, I didn't pay much attention. I could tell you the plots of dozens of novels, but just one painting sticks in my memory—Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children. As a college student loose in Madrid, I wandered through a door at the Prado, turned, and Saturn stopped me cold.

Now I teach and write professionally about the visual arts (I'm art critic for a medium-sized city newspaper) as someone who's mostly self-taught. What I know about the visual and performing arts comes from reading books, magazines, and newspapers, and listening to smart people, and then constantly seeking out new experiences in the world of high culture. I have learned to understand and love the arts through a lifelong, incremental layering of knowledge and experience.

As a teacher by vocation, I think that's the best way to learn. Being smart about art (and about other things, too) doesn't require a sophisticate's birthright or a minimum intelligence score or even a college degree. Art smarts come to an open mind that's willing to reach out, take a risk, and encounter new experience. I'm hoping that mind is yours.

WHAT'S IN THIS BOOK

Nine of the chapters that follow are each devoted to an art as you'll encounter it out there in the real world of museums, galleries, concert halls, theaters—all the places and spaces of culture where it actually exists. In each chapter, you'll find some or all of these elements.

REAL ENCOUNTER

Recollections and reflections are from my own encounters with works of art in this medium. Some are drawn from my own journal entries, written in the shelf-full of spiral notebooks. Some are based on my collection of performance programs, newspaper articles and reviews, and postcards—all the stuff I keep as a physical memory of the encounter. I often do the same thing with great meals at friends' homes or restaurants as a way of recalling the pleasure of the moment. It's a mental snapshot of the encounter.

TOOL KIT

A glossary of essential terms provides definitions of everything you need to know about this art.

STYLE GUIDE

A short list of important styles or principal artists.

THE EXPERIENCE

Step-by-step directions guide you through the experience of an art. The kind of things that anybody who's played the game for a while knows to do. Beginners need instructions.

A COMPANION TO THE ART

Pages you can photocopy and take with you that provide questions to ask, terms to remember, and a reminder to forget about that dumb handbook. Think and feel for yourself!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I wish to thank Richard Rietveld, Suzanne Salapa, Mary Jo Pecht, and Ralph Clemente for their support. Thanks also to my editor Bud Therien for prompting me to begin this project and to Joanne Riker for bringing it so efficiently to completion.

Prentice Hall's reviewers offered valuable suggestions: Rick Davis, Ricks College; Stan Kajs, Chesapeake College; Wayne Swindall, California Baptist University; Blue Greenberg, Meredith College; Charles Carroll, Lake City Community College; and Cortlandt Bellevance, Atlantic Cape Community College.

Philip E. Bishop

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