Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Art History

When I was in Standard 4 in Primary School (aged 10 or 11) I remember the teacher saying we were going have a History lesson. I’d recently heard a clever and amusing line on television and chose this time to repeat it. “Sir,” I said, “I don’t like History … there’s no future in it.”

Rather than laughing and saying what a clever boy I was, the teacher looked at me sternly and said “That’s where you’re wrong” and launched into a talk about the relevance of history to the current day and to the future.

Of course, he was right. Humourless, but right.

Ironically, when I went to Aberystwyth University I studied History (as well as doing an Art Foundation course). One of the more memorable courses was The History of Italian Art. I remember a funny little lecturer, based in one of the old University building towers, showing us endless slides of Italian art. It was like watching someone’s holiday snaps. For a year.

Art History is much more interesting and engaging nowadays. There are libraries full of great books with high quality reproductions; there are museums and galleries; there’s Google Images and Wikipedia; there’s TED and Charlie Rose (and many more) for talks and interviews with contemporary artists. Plus, of course, more websites and blogs than you can shake a stick at.

I remember someone saying to me that they wouldn’t study history because they “could never remember all those dates”.

Nor me.

I rarely know what day I did last week let alone when Henry VIII reigned.

But I don’t think that’s the point.

More to the point, in my opinion, is ‘what the hell was going on’ and why does it matter.

When I study Art History, as part of my professional development, I’m looking for subjects, periods or issues that have contemporary relevance. It’s exciting when I discover topics that strike a chord with me and make me curious to know more and to understand better. The challenge then is to find ways to apply that understanding in terms of my own work and ideas.

So it seems my Primary School teacher was right.

But I was funnier.

At university I had a really good prof for the two modern art history courses I took. Her exams were always the same. She'd show us a slide we'd never seen and we had to (a) name the artist, (b) give an approximate date, (c) in a short paragraph explain why we thought it was painted by that artist. Brilliant I thought.
Andrea ... sounds a bit hard to me!
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