Thursday, September 15, 2011

Art History Day!

Welcome to the first weekly Art History Day post! I'm excited. I'm an artist, and creating is pretty energizing to me. But I'm such a nerd. I enjoy learning and reading and writing, so I was drawn to art history. As soon as I took my first art history classes in college I thought, "hey, this is interesting, and I'm pretty good at it!" From then on, studio had to share me with history. Studio art is so subjective. What is "good" to someone is "bad" to someone else, and vice versa (which is great, don't get me wrong). But there's something about the academic-ness of art history that really excited me. I can ace a test; I can write an impressive paper. Oooo, I like this!

From the time I had the weekly blogging idea, I knew I wanted to include art history. It's an interest of mine, and I think it sets me apart from many other artists. But I didn't know how I would go about doing it.

Then a bunch of friends, who I was set to attend art history grad school with, started talking about "Comps" a lot on Facebook. Comps is the name used for the test at San Jose State (and possibly other institutions) that assesses a student's comprehensive knowledge of western art history.

It shows how much of a dork I am that I was excited to take Comps. I wanted to prove to everyone how much I knew about art history. I didn't care one ounce about writing a thesis, and much of the course work I would have had to do didn't interest me at all, but proving I could do well on a big test . . . bring it on!!

It's pretty obvious I wasn't cut out for grad school. And I'm grateful every day for the turn my life made.

But . . . all the Facebook Comps chatter inspired me. Why be jealous of these ladies "getting" to study for and take this big test when I could study for but not have the stress of taking the test?! I could use the studying I wanted to do as inspiration for my blog! Self indulgence + career progress = awesome!

Then I asked my wonderful friend Sarah when/where Comps studying started, and she said "3600 BCE Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece." Well, that's all right, but there was art before that!

Also, Comps is all about western art. And although I'm most interested in western art, there may be days I want to jump over to Japan and talk about wood block prints or Turkey and talk about The Blue Mosque. It needs to be pretty loose!

So what will Art History Day be exactly? I'm going to try to go chronologically, unless I'm really inspired by something I've read or watched lately, then I might bounce around a little (for example, I recently watched The Tudors, and if I'd been blogging at the time, I make have done some Holbein research). The chronology is mostly to give me ideas. If I don't have a spark of inspiration before my post, I will keep to the timeline.

And what will I write about? I'm not an art history professor, and I'm no Gardner or Stokstad. I'm going to talk about art as it pertains to my artwork. Or at least how it could influence my work or make me think about my work or art in general in a different way.

How long will it take to get through all of the history of art? I don't know. It depends how fast I go and how much a skip. Six months? A year? 5 years? We'll see!!


For my first art history post, I wanted to start at the very beginning! Or the beginning of what we've found. How could I start with Mesopotamia 3600 BCE when there are wonderful paintings done 35,000 years ago!?!

 As far as I know, Chauvet Cave in southern France has the oldest paintings we've ever found. Some dating from 35,000 years ago and some from 30,000 years ago.

public domain photo from Wikipedia

Prehistoric cave paintings are a mystery at this point. No one knows if they were ceremonial, tools for the hunt, or simply beautiful art. What we do know is, they are fascinating.

I think one of the most interesting things about prehistoric cave paintings is that they look so modern, but that might be because so many modern artists were inspired by them.

What are the most important aspects of this work? Well, animals. Could I try some animals in my work? It's hard to think about painting animals without it turning sappy. I don't want to start painting babies and puppy dogs. No thanks. But I'll keep an open mind to animals that seem more serious. We have a lot of deer to paint!!

The most obvious artistic choice, for me, is the layering. Animals just placed one on top of another with no concern for scale or perspective. But it's very interesting. And it's not terribly confusing or irritating. Lines going through animals' heads, and you still understand what's being depicted. And the skill with which the animals were drawn is so that the strange perspective seems intentional and not accidental. I'll keep these techniques in mind when I work, but I admit it's hard to image using these methods without creating a final painting that looks . . . Cubist.

public domain photo from Wikipedia

I think the most interesting artistic choice made here is the disparity between shading and line drawing within one animal. It's as if the artist said, "well, the head's the most important part, so I'll shade that, and the rest of the body can just be line. Who really cares." What?!? That seems like a really modern idea to me.

And I'm totally failing in my art history nerd-dom right now in saying I don't remember who started the practice in "modern" western art of spending more time on the "important" parts . . . Italian Renaissance? Leonardo Di Vinci? Titian? I think I'm pretty warm.

Anyway. It's something I do all the time. I'm a lazy artist. I know that. And I like that. I'm not one of those artists who's going to spend 500 hours on one painting. It's not my style, and it wouldn't look good. I'm one of those artists who says, "This painting looked really good after 30 minutes. I should have stopped there."

I will certainly consider using the prehistoric masters' technique in the future. Maybe in this Saturday's Saturday Sketch!

I may write more about Chauvet Cave after seeing Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I actually wanted to try to watch it before this post, but it's not out on DVD yet. That will probably be madness, though. {:

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