Equipping Difference Makers in Art History and Art Education

by Nathan Foster

For students interested in a graduate degree in Art History or Art Education from a Christian institution, there is no better option than Azusa Pacific University. APU’s graduate art programs top the national rankings of many sources including Forbes, Best Colleges, Intelligent, and Grad School Center. APU’s programs offer students rigorous coursework taught by experienced experts, flexible schedules including fully asynchronous or low-residency classes, and multiple entry points each semester, all while preparing students to become difference makers in the art world after graduation.

Faith Informed Instruction

When APU launched the Master of Art in Modern and Contemporary Art History program in 2012, it became one of the only Christian institutions in the country to offer such a graduate degree. The same was true when APU started the Master of Art in Art Education in 2017.

“Other Christian schools had undergraduate art programs, but didn’t offer graduate art programs,” said Bill Catling, MFA, chair of the Department of Art and interim chair of the Department of Design. “We saw the benefit of equipping graduate students with a Christian art education so they could make a difference as educators and leaders.”

APU’s art history program focuses specifically on modern (1830s to 1960s) and contemporary art (1970s to the present). “It’s interesting that while Christianity is such an essential part of medieval and renaissance art, most schools don’t offer any courses on art and religion in modern and contemporary art, or even allow their students to explore the subject,” said Angela George, PhD, program director of the MA in Modern and Contemporary Art. “We don’t shy away from talking about the intersections between Christianity in art.” While faith components are integrated into every course in APU’s art programs, specific courses offer a deeper focus on the relationship between religion and art. Catling believes the exploration of this connection is essential in creating a well rounded art historian and educator. “Whether someone is a person of faith or not, they’re bringing invisible ideas into the making,” he said. “This really allows us to explore what you see and what’s behind what you see.”

Flexible Schedule and Multiple Entry Points

APU’s Art History program is fully online and asynchronous. This offers students tremendous flexibility in completing their education outside of work hours. “About half of our students are teachers who are looking to advance in their careers,” George said. “Our online format allows them to continue working full-time while completing their coursework on their own schedule.” APU’s Art History program is one of only two in the country to offer a fully online format. The program is 36-units, meaning students can complete it in as little as 18 months, although most take 2-3 years to finish it. “We’ve had a lot of art teachers who have had the program mostly or fully paid for by their school districts.”

Art Education is a low-residency program—meaning the vast majority of courses are offered online while students are required to complete two one-week in-person residency courses as part of the 30-unit program. The access and flexibility caters to a diverse population, including international students who visit the Azusa campus each summer for their residencies. “All of the students love the communal aspects of the residency,” Catling said. “We share meals and do activities together. For many art teachers at the high school, middle school, and elementary level, they’re just consumed by the workload. It’s so intense that they don’t get to make art anymore, so when they come for the summer it’s refreshing for them to get to create artwork. They have a whole week to make art in our caring community and it revitalizes them.”

Both APU’s Art History and Art Education programs offer students five entry-points: two in the spring semester, one in the summer, and two in the fall semester.

“I don’t know of any other institutions that offer five entry-points each year for their master’s arts programs,” George said. “We’re groundbreaking in that respect, and it’s challenging, but we want to offer students that flexibility.”

Learn Essential Skills

APU’s programs equip students with skills necessary to succeed in their chosen career. “We give outstanding art historical training, current critical methods, visual analysis, close reading of texts, and communication and research skills,” George said. All art history students conduct extensive original research using primary sources that they write papers on and present to their classes. Students in the program have had their research published in prestigious industry publications, including MDPI’s Arts Journal, the Coalition of Master’s Scholars on Material Culture, and Visual Inquiry. Art History students must take a foreign language which aids in research of global art. In addition, they learn to read the art itself as a text. “Formal analysis is also like learning a foreign language,” George said. “Analyzing and discussing art is a skill that students in all of our disciplines learn to articulate clearly, translating the visual into the verbal.”

In Art Education, students research various movements of art, how the movements have changed over the centuries, how to break down artwork structurally down to its elements, and principles so they can teach their students in turn how to replicate it.

“In art education, you teach people how to see, observe, and identify the different parts of what you’re seeing, and how to teach it,” Catling said.

Graduate Ready to Impact the Industry

Whether students are seeking to become art curators or historians, advance in their teaching careers, or get ready to pursue a doctoral degree, APU’s Art History and Art Education programs prepare them to become difference makers ready to impact the industry. Graduates from APU’s programs have gone on to serve in a variety positions at renowned institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. Alumni have also been accepted into prestigious PhD programs at McMaster University, the University of Florida, and Graduate Theological Union, among other prestigious institutions.

Both APU’s Art History and Art Education program have alumni across the country teaching art from elementary to collegiate levels. “We’re a group of professionals trying to change the next generation,” Catling said. “Our program has had a powerful ripple effect and we’re excited to continue to see the impact of our alumni.”

Learn more about APU’s Art Education and Art History programs and apply today.

Nathan foster is APU's public relations manager in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.