My ignorance of art history makes me feel inadequate

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  1. #1
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    My ignorance of art history makes me feel inadequate

    I hear my teacher and some other people toss around names of various painters, or when looking at drawings they know who did them. "Oh, that's (French/European/Scholarly sounding name) from X century", another dead guy whose name I don't know.

    I also can't grasp the names of art movements and styles, to me there are more movements than there are metal genres, and I see them all like this:
    - Post-neodeathliteralexpressioncube(ism)
    To me a picture is just a picture, In my mind I only make distinctions in what I see realistic/non-realistic representational/non-representational, abstract, colors.

    I just feel like an idiot in the face of this, I can probably recognize some paintings and drawings, but I can't pinpoint the guy who made them, his birthplace, eye color, dog's favorite food.
    I have a personal view that I don't care about people who died long before I was born, history is after all just a story. Sure there's evidence for major wars and events, and I don't deny that, but I don't like having a dead guy in the spot light. I can remember only so many names before they begin to fade.

    I can't force myself to like art history, but I don't see any of the artists as important figures. Their work has relevance, but their names and personal lives don't. Take Einstein for example, his life means nothing to me, I only see his theories as important, they just have his name attached to them. As long as the theories have evidence and there's truth in them, it doesn't matter who came up to them, only the theories do. How do people technologically progress? by learning and building onto the ideas of those before them. Do today's engineers and architects bow down to the ancient Greek/Mayan/Roman architects? Are their names important? I'd say only their methods in accomplishing what they did are, the person behind it is not.

    All this was just a way to rationalize my ignorance. I'm kind of set in my ways, I just can't bring myself to memorize the name of every movement and artist, I say the work and techniques to produce said work are important, not those behind it.

    Last edited by hippl5; April 16th, 2010 at 03:01 PM.
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  3. #2
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    I disagree.

    And since you yourself is calling it ignorance, I say you should study more.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hippl5 View Post
    All this was just a way to rationalize my ignorance.
    Indeed it is. Ignorance is excusable, willful ignorance never is. At least you have the sense to feel inadequate. Art history is history, and a historical framework is one of the most useful tools for learning any subject. Otherwise, as your experience shows, names, date, etc are just isolated pieces of information with no context. Cutting yourself off from the history of ideas via some half-assed philosophical justification is self-defeating. The more you know, the easier it is to know more.


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    I have a hard time remembering names too, but if you take no interest in your own heritage your holding yourself back. Don't forget history repeats its self. There are allot of important relevant lessons in art history. Such as censorship in it's many forms and the effects it has on art. Not just that but the effects of ignorance on our side. See what happens when artist truly lives in a vacuum of creativity. You can learn what was borrowed, what was stolen and what was created out of thin air. You need to learn how some people got filthy rich and some died penniless. On top of all that your missing out on some key inspiration. If you look up top you'll find work with elements from oddballs throughout art history and many many "izms" wrapped into one.
    OPEN YOUR MIND
    My ignorance of art history makes me feel inadequate

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  8. #5
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    Understanding the history of art is just as important as understanding the history of the rest of the world, and in both cases people DO matter. Understanding the social context of history helps you understand how and why various events and ideas came into being.

    Ideas come from people. People are influenced by the people around them and the culture of their place and time. Understanding the people and times that produced certain ideas helps you understand those ideas better, and more importantly, helps you evaluate ideas intelligently so that you can use them or ignore them in an informed way.

    Maybe you just need to find better sources of art history. Memorizing names and dates is boring and doesn't teach much, what you really want to look at is the interaction of artists with their times, with other artists, with those who came before and after them, etc.

    Pssst, top secret, I can never ever ever remember dates at all. But I DO know who did what, and why, and who influenced who, and who rebelled against who, and why they rebelled, and so forth, and so on... To me that's the important stuff. I do try to remember names, because then I know what to look for when shopping for art books and scoping out exhibits.

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; April 16th, 2010 at 03:19 PM.
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  10. #6
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    "I have a personal view that I don't care about people who died long before I was born, history is after all just a story."

    This is a big part of your problem. Allow me to point out that the history of ANYTHING is like a rabid Doberman twice your size--ignore it, and your ass (and other body parts) will end up in a heap of dog shit

    No position or belief, whether religious, political or social, is valid if one has to lie to support it.--Alj Mary

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    At the end of the day it isn't how many movements you know, or how many artists that's important it's how you are able to disect what an individual piece of work means (the circumstances surrounding it, it's artist's intentions) and whether you feel it'll be relevant to you. The history will come with time, just visit galleries that you come across, note down the individuals that interest you and who you feel may be helpful to your growth.

    (Without knowing the content of what you're refering to, all you will have is timelines and lists so take one step at a time)

    My sketchbook, if you really want to see it...

    "Picasso is a painter, so am I;... Picasso is Spanish, so am I; Picasso is a communist, neither am I." - Salvador Dali
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    Yeah, for me the more I understand and learn about artists or musicians, the way they work, their motivations and influences, etc. the more insight I gain into my own work and the larger fabric of art, science, engineering, music, etc. throughout history. This tends to lead to more interesting conversations with my peers and enhances my ability to share with my students.

    I was very fortunate in my first art history courses to have a teacher that brought the artists to life for me (or maybe it was just where I was at in my own life). Ever since those early days I've tried to learn more and study on my own, personally I find it fascinating, though I'm very bad with names, dates and countries too.

    Everyone is different though - just thought I'd share. Wish I had some words of wisdom or some recommendations for books that might get you fired up but you just gotta do that on your own if it interests you.

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    "You'll never know where you're going, unless you know where you came from."

    "Everything must serve the idea. The means used to convey the idea should be the simplest and clear. Just what is required. No extra images. To me this is a universal principle of art. Saying as much as possible with a minimum of means."
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    Cut and paste from an old post..

    You probably don't need exact titles and dates in a non-exam scenario.

    Look at lots of work (and I mean lots).

    The art history tests in my old college were point based so even if you couldn't identify "Ophelia, 1852, Millais" you'd get points for "Chick in a pond, !800s? Looks British, maybe the Pre-Raph mob, 'Rossetti and pals?"
    It's this mental catalogue of visual info that lets you guess where work is from, which school it belongs to etc. Train your visual perceptions to be able to look at stuff and say "Ooh, looks a bit like Raphael, probably from..." or "it's a flamboyant Sargent style portrait but not one I know, it's maybe Boldini or Zorn" "It's a typical Pre-Raph subject but more naturalistic and painterly, maybe a Waterhouse..?"

    How? The only advice I have is to look at loads of pictures. (Good news, that's fun. You can sit around with a six pack and a stack of library books and learn this stuff ) You need to abandon the idea of memorising individual pieces and pick up the visual and stylistic cues that tell you where and when that's likely from. Look at enough images and eventually a little voice appears whispering "Oooh, looks a bit like a..whatever"

    It's a daunting subject (probably nobody on Earth knows all of it..) but start in chunks.

    1- Course essentials
    2- Your interests
    3- Anything and everything.

    The main thing is that you need to read a lot and look at a lot of images.

    Good luck.

    /2p worth

    Honestly, the more art history you learn the more obvious the connections and influences become, it's worth learning unless you really want to reinvent the wheel.

    A decent knowledge of art history will also enable you to improve your own work while casually tossing aside those essays they will make you write..

    Edit: I was asssuming you were in art school there, my bad.

    Last edited by Flake; April 16th, 2010 at 08:35 PM.
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    You don't have to take a class or memorize names to learn anything about art history. I love looking at art from painters from all art periods... doing that and reading biographies of artists' lives (I read Sargent's bio, was extremely interesting!) will teach you so much and open your eyes to a world of knowledge. Shutting off history because it's filled with dead people is naive, most of the people that I respect the most have long been dead.

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    "...most of the people that I respect the most have long been dead."

    Me...for example...














    No position or belief, whether religious, political or social, is valid if one has to lie to support it.--Alj Mary

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    Ilaekae, don't feel down, man! You're still alive and kicking!

    "history is after all just a story."

    Stories are great, and the history of people on Earth is an incredible story! Look at it that way. Just as the story of Einstein's life is incredible, if you were willing to read up on it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TASmith View Post

    "history is after all just a story."

    Stories are great, and the history of people on Earth is an incredible story! Look at it that way. Just as the story of Einstein's life is incredible, if you were willing to read up on it.
    Exactly - in some ways I have almost the opposite feelings to the OP's comment, "Take Einstein for example, his life means nothing to me, I only see his theories as important, they just have his name attached to them. As long as the theories have evidence and there's truth in them, it doesn't matter who came up to them, only the theories do.

    For me the theories and ideas are interesting but I'm much more interested in what forces, influences and situations led them to their breakthroughs and important works. Why did Michelangelo consider himself a sculptor and really didn't like painting? Or Caravaggio? What made him so interested in dramatic lighting and why did he decide to paint a basket of fruit, now considered the first still life? It was all personal things within themselves and reactions to their times and to the pressures of their patrons (the market) that influenced them.

    Anyway, just interesting stuff to me.

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    Take a friend, go round a gallery full of dead people's art and critique each picture - it's mega fun and you can learn an awful lot.

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    Past is the base of the present and future, if you dont understand the base, how can you even possibly attempt to build the future?

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    Thumbs up

    Art history is as interesting as drawing itself; just go into the library and pick up a book on art history and it's like reading a story book. It's like, you feel more motivated after learning about the lives of the masters and the past.

    Having said that, it depends on what kind of art history you're talking about. Those so-called cubism, surrealism, dadaism, structuralism, post-structuralism, constructivism, post-surrealism, expressionism, post-expressionism, abstract expressionism aren't part of art history to begin with.

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    Maybe I'll give this a second chance. The only art history I took was a required class that started with the bare basics - Lascaux cave paintings, and I felt the class was more about dates and names than the art.

    Edit - I like Vermeer, Beksinski, and Frazetta. Anyone got any suggestions?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    Having said that, it depends on what kind of art history you're talking about. Those so-called cubism, surrealism, dadaism, structuralism, post-structuralism, constructivism, post-surrealism, expressionism, post-expressionism, abstract expressionism aren't part of art history to begin with.
    I swear, one of these days I'm going to fly to Singapore just to slap you across the face with a fish.


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  28. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by hippl5 View Post
    Edit - I like Vermeer, Beksinski, and Frazetta. Anyone got any suggestions?
    Okay....check, check aaaand check... What about the stuff you don't like? I would suggest you start looking at the stuff you don't like first. Believe me, sooner or later you're going to realize how valuable the stuff you disliked at first really is.

    Same goes for Xeon_OND. Denying that those are part of art history is like denying you're alive. It's thanks to those people we have learnt a great deal about art that doesn't have to be beautiful to be art. It's actually where stuff like composition, color theory and many other of the art knowledge you probably apply in your art nowadays has its foundation.

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  30. #21
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    If you're unhappy with yourself and your knowledge base, change it. If you're not, enjoy what you have.

    Art history is only ever as important as you'll acknowledge it to be. For some people knowing the names, the dates, the movements is an incredible - necessary subject of study they simply must add to their lives. Others may dabble in some bits that interest them. Others might not be interested at all.

    It's possible to be a worthwhile artist either way. Even history began in the present. That present just happened awhile ago. As with other aspects of art - you're surrounded by information, knowledge, and possibility. What makes you who and what you are, is what you learn, how you learn it, and where you learn it from.

    Personally I find the exploration itself to be one of the best things I could do with my life. Sometimes that means looking up a dead guy, sometimes it means wanting to figure things out in my own way. That's the beauty of it.

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    I am pretty bad with remembering all the names and exact periods myself, however the great masters figured out ALOT of the most basic parts of art a long, long time ago.

    Probably about 99.99% of what we know about art were discovered, penned and classified by them. So why do you want to look for something has already been found? Look at it as a personal tuitor session or lecture from Da Vinci or Van Gogh. They may be dead but they can still teach you tons more than you will ever figure out on your own.

    P.S.Xeon_OND: I agree with Elwell, saying those movements are not part of art history is a disgrace! (I'll pay for the fish.)

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  33. #23
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    As much as I agree with what everyone here is saying (that is, art history is important, it's fun and you should learn it), you don't REALLY have to learn it. You don't REALLY have to be interested in it.

    But then again, I don't REALLY have to learn oil painting, do I? I mean, I COULD just get a real job. It'd be much simpler.

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    In your defense, most art history books and classes are VERY broad and VERY dry. It's hard to appreciate an important work of art when you just see that one piece surrounded by a page of dense text about what the artist was doing. I recommend that when you encounter an artist whose work you don't understand, you should pick up a book specifically about that artist and leaf through it to see how their work progressed from basic drawing to whatever they became known for. For example, it's very useful to see the stuff Mondrian was doing before he went to Paris and how it changed as he became exposed to cubism and gradually moved toward rectilinear abstraction. That was an "aha" moment for me -- I found that seeing how that happened shed a lot of light on his work, and that of every other modern artist. Some of my most valuable educational experiences have been simply sitting in libraries leafing through stacks of art books.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hippl5 View Post
    Maybe I'll give this a second chance. The only art history I took was a required class that started with the bare basics - Lascaux cave paintings, and I felt the class was more about dates and names than the art.

    Edit - I like Vermeer, Beksinski, and Frazetta. Anyone got any suggestions?
    Ah, yes, some of those "overview" classes and books make everything very boring...

    Maybe it would be easier to get into it if you start with specific artists and movements/periods that look interesting, and gradually branch out from there... They all connect with each other, so reading about one artist tends to lead to others, and so on. That's how I learned most of my art history, just browsing art books that caught my eye, and running across more new things to look up in each one until gradually I'd covered most of art history.

    Let's see. If you like Vermeer and Frazetta, you might like a lot of things in renaissance art - reading up on the renaissance would cover a lot of ground, and the art is cool.

    If you like Beksinski, you might want to read up on surrealism - Beksinski wouldn't have done what he did if it hadn't been for surrealism. Plus it's one of the most entertaining movements to read about, influenced a lot of people, and in some ways it's still going on, so it's not even a "dead" movement.

    You may also find Romanticism, the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolism to be fairly intriguing, and those movements will get you started on the nineteenth century. (Although most people start with impressionism.)

    Some artists you might find interesting to start with:
    • Michelangelo (for one thing, his life is an object lesson in clients-from-hell...)

    • Leonardo Da Vinci (if only because there's nobody quite like him.)

    • Delacroix (colorful character, colorful art, and highly influential. Also, if you like Frazetta, you might like Delacroix.)

    • Paul Gauguin (you may or may not like his art, but his life and work sort of intersect with a lot of important movements and people... and his biography is pretty exciting by itself. He also has some autobiographical writings, worth looking at.)

    • Salvador Dali (if only for the entertainment value. His autobiographical writing is especially off-the-wall...)

    • Pablo Picasso (just because he was involved with practically every major art movement in the first half of the twentieth century, and knew everybody. And lived a topsy-turvy life with nearly as many wives as Henry the Eighth.)


    Also maybe try Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of the Artists" - it gives very gossipy biographies of many major renaissance artists, by someone who knew a lot of them personally. It's much more fun to read than a dry history.

    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; April 18th, 2010 at 01:36 PM.
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    Sometimes it's easier to look up people and their history when you know you don't have to look, as in it's not required from school. If someone brings up a name that you're not familiar with, just get curious and check out that name! I know I learned a LOT last year, more than I ever learned, by getting curious whenever I heard an unfamiliar name on some of the CA videos that I have. I was intrigued by how the person acted throughout their life while doing their art, and what their behaviour fueled them to do next with that art.

    And if you're a more visual learner like I am, check out many pictures too, and don't drown yourself in all text!

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    Art history has little appeal as a subject in its own right. You may find it more interesting to study the works in the contexts of the times in which they were produced, and what they say about the realities and aspirations of those times. The study of broader history is the thing. Artists themselves are irrelevant. There is nothing extraordinary about artists except that they produce art (to paraphrase some dead guy or other). The thing is the art reflects the times.

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    "Everything must serve the idea. The means used to convey the idea should be the simplest and clear. Just what is required. No extra images. To me this is a universal principle of art. Saying as much as possible with a minimum of means."
    -John Huston, Director
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xeon_OND View Post
    Having said that, it depends on what kind of art history you're talking about. Those so-called cubism, surrealism, dadaism, structuralism, post-structuralism, constructivism, post-surrealism, expressionism, post-expressionism, abstract expressionism aren't part of art history to begin with.
    I'm sure there must be some value to reading the history of those (con-)artists. Like looking at drawings made by retarded monkeys - what not to do.

    Stapleton kearns talks about history in a really interesting way. Reading that I found the term for certain landscape and airplane illustrations I like - they are lumism. Nice name but it still doesn't help me draw though.

    http://stapletonkearns.blogspot.com/...inism+compared

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