Prince William’s decision to study history of art at St Andrews University has presented a unique opportunity for the academic art community in the UK. With a longstanding connection to art and culture, the royal family’s association with art history is not a new concept. Despite this, the subject is still widely regarded as elitist and unaccessible to many, a stereotype that the art history community is keen to dispel.
Art history has historically been dominated by white, upper middle-class, independently educated female students, a demographic that has been criticised in a report by teaching quality inspectors for promoting a narrow, Euro-centric view of art. The lack of diversity within the subject is seen as a major cause for concern, and has led to some universities discussing plans to set up workshops aimed at raising the profile of the subject among a wider student audience.
Prince William’s high-profile enrolment in a history of art degree program has the potential to bring the subject into the public eye and attract a more diverse and varied range of students. However, it is important for the academic community to ensure that this increased visibility dispels the stereotype of art history as a subject only accessible to the privileged few.
After conducting a survey of art history departments, it was found that there were mixed views about diversifying the curriculum. Some academics were skeptical about the idea, fearing that it could potentially compromise academic standards. However, the survey did also highlight the existence of courses that deviated from the traditional "Giotto to Cezanne" focus.
In terms of coverage and activity related to historic traditions and artistic practices outside of the Western world, the survey found that it was patchy. China had the best coverage for pre-20th century, followed by Japan and India. However, there was limited pre-20th century teaching of Latin American and African art outside of a few established centers. A conference is scheduled for later this year to discuss the survey’s findings.
Although the art history department at St. Andrews welcomed the GLAADH review, it will not have any impact on William’s education. He will be taught traditional courses such as Italian Renaissance, British architecture, furniture history, and the history of photography. During an assessment of the department that resulted in it being given a "highly satisfactory" rating, the main feedback was that students, particularly those with limited financial means, needed more frequent exposure to art in major cities.
While art history may not diversify William’s education, it could still provide him with valuable skills for his future as king. Graduates of art history programs are highly skilled at communication and presentation, which would be useful in a public-facing role like the monarchy. Additionally, students are trained to be visually aware and to engage with their environment, which is crucial for any leader. The expansion of art history as a field has also allowed for a wider range of artifacts to be studied and discussed, from country houses to town centers.