The AP art history curriculum identifies 250 works students are required to know, spanning 20,000 years of history and cultures across the globe. The list includes thirty works of Asian art.
I teach in a rural fringe district and am committed to giving my students “equal access” to non-Western artistic traditions, and have taken several courses with NCTA, including the 2011 China study tour. My study tour began with Shanghai at night (with its river of lights), the gardens at Hangzhou, Chengdu, the Yellow Mountains, the ancient capital at Xi’an, and the museums and the contemporary scene in Beijing. In the beautiful national museums and historical spots, I was moved as I came face to face with six of the required Chinese works in the AP art history curriculum. My observation is that the College Board (and NCTA) chose these works with care to provide a single masterpiece from each of the significant historical periods, representing most major styles and media. So my understanding of the AP curriculum is that it takes us sequentially through historical periods, but allows us to experience a different medium in each. These do not provide a complete picture of Chinese art, but they are representative.
There are no significant opportunities for my students to encounter Chinese or other examples of Asian
art. However, my students are open, curious, and hungry to understand. When facing Chinese art, they seem first drawn to structures of meaning that appear at first unfamiliar. I encourage this opening. The earliest artifact from China is the jade Cong from the Neolithic Liangzhu culture. The Cong is highly abstract, with a circle inside a square. Terra Cotta Warriors from the Qin dynasty situates each component in highly structured political, economic, artistic, and military relationships.