YouTube: Social, Cultural, and Religious Functions

I just made my first YouTube video to help introduce course material to online students. Normally I create QuickTime videos of PowerPoint presentations for my online students, but I thought that a short clip of myself could help to set the tone (and hopefully encourage excitement!) for the upcoming course, which begins next week.

The video encourages students to look for ways that prehistoric and ancient art is connected with cultural, social, and religious functions. Before students even open their textbook, I want them to understand that definitions for art have changed over time. Today’s definitions for art (including ideas behind “Expressionism,” “art for art’s sake,” and a keen interest in aesthetic) are somewhat different from those of earlier centuries.

P.S. Yes, that’s a puzzle replica of the Sistine Chapel in the background of the clip. You can lift off the roof to reveal Michelangelo’s ceiling and Last Judgment fresco inside!

  • heidenkind says:

    You are so cute! I love your hairstyle.

    I was thinking of doing something like this for my online class, but I'm still on the fence about it. I might do a video with voice-over, even though those can be pretty dang boring sometimes.

  • M says:

    I think it's a challenge to make sure that online students are consistently engaged in the lecture, whether it be with voiceovers or videos. I've had some good feedback and success with voiceover lectures, so I think that I'll try those again. But I'd be interested to hear what you end up doing, heidenkind. Keep me posted, please!

  • Dr. F says:


    A very, very nice video. You spoke for 8 minutes without a hitch or notes. Very impressive.

    Just one suggestion. I'm not sure I accept the 19th century idea of beauty vs. utility. Along with food, drink, and shelter, Beauty is one of our basic human needs. Maybe I'm a Romantic but I believe that it is absolutely necessary to experience beauty.

    Your course is the most important one your students will ever take; much more important than accounting or political science.

    It was also nice to be able to attach a face to your writing.


  • M says:

    Thanks for your kind comment, Frank.

    I think that Gautier's theories regarding "art for art's sake" can definitely be put up for critique! Perhaps, when I reach the 19th century in this course's curriculum, we will revisit this theory in more depth. By that point in the course they should feel comfortable enough to have their own ideas and interpretations about artistic theories.

    And to be fair, in the video clip I gave an extreme generalization of Gautier and the idea of aesthetic/beauty in general. In my mind, I wanted to make my discussion basic enough to encompass other ideas about aesthetic from 20th century Modernism. (Of course, my ART 101 students wouldn't know that, but I wanted to point it out here.)

    It's interesting: when I teach this lecture with students in a classroom, "beauty" is usually one of the first things to be mentioned as a definition for art. Beauty is one of the primary things people associate with art, usually right up there with "expression" and "communication."

    In a more complex course, I would want to explore how definitions of "beauty" have also changed over time. But alas, a mere six-week course covering the whole history of Western art (about 30,000 years worth of material!) can't include everything. We'll touch on the idea by discussing the concept of idealism, but unfortunately this course won't delve into more depth on this topic. There is just too much material to cover!

  • H Niyazi says:

    Nice work M. I'm curious as to whether this is something you are running for work or an independent course?

    @Frank – beauty is a cultural construct, correlating with psychological and social factors that are highly variable from one individual, or even culture to the next.

    eg. I can readily admit a Raphael painting is "beautiful", but what that really means is my eye appreciates the arrangement of symmetry and colour. That is of course *my* definition – someone else looking at the same piece may feel something entirely different – it's highly subjective.


  • M says:

    @H: Thanks for the comment! This video is for work. I start teaching this new introductory course next week. This is the first time I have been required to teach the whole history of Western art in six weeks. (When I first began teaching, I taught a similar introductory course that spanned over eight weeks, and I thought that eight weeks was hardly enough time! We'll see how well I do with an even shorter time frame!)

    And I agree with you, beauty is a cultural construct which is also highly subjective!

  • dg61 says:

    Frank: I do think you're right, in the sense that there is an innate need for the pleasing arrangment of color and pattern, even if what exactly that means varies substantially. Of course, even something that seems quite objective like "realism" is strongly culturally determined-we tend to think of Persian manuscripts as less realistic and flat but there's at least some evidence that they were intended to be and considered realistic
    M-This is somewhat off topic, but out of curiosity are near eastern antiquities or western islamic art taught in the class?

  • Dr. F says:


    Thanks, you said it better than I did. When I vacation in Florida, I always marvel at the number of people who march to the beach every evening to watch the sunset. They seem to need the beauty of colors and patterns in the sky more than the drinks in their hands.

    I don't think the evening pilgrimage is a cultural construct. Most of Monica's students probably think Art 101 is a "junk" course that they have to take to fulfill a requirement. Hopefully, Monica can help them see that Art fulfills a basic human need.



  • M says:

    dg61: Thanks for your comment! (And welcome to my blog, I'm not sure if you have commented before. I just noticed your own WordPress site, which looks very interesting.) I can see what both you and Frank are saying about the human need for some type of visually "pleasing arrangement."

    As for Ancient Near Eastern objects, I am going to discuss the following briefly: ziggurats (mostly the Ziggurat at Ur), the Standard of Ur, the bronze head of an Akkadian king, and a statue of Gudea. I'm going to try and squeeze in some information about the lamassu statues as well. It's not much, but unfortunately the scope of this introductory class doesn't allow for more objects. When I teach ancient art during a regular school session (not an intense six-week session, which is the case for my online class), I like to have a lecture dedicated to the looting and mutilation of Mesopotamian monuments by conquering enemies. I assign my students to read an fascinating article on the topic my Marian H. Feldman. (I mention the article briefly in this post.)

    As for Islamic art, I am hoping to at least discuss the Dome of the Rock. I wish that the scope of this class allowed for more discussion on these topics, but I'm working under an extreme time constraint.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.