While walking through the many art-adorned churches, palaces and museums of Italy on a recent trip, I had the great honor of having my mother with me, and she brought fresh eyes with her. You see, I am a lover of art history — I mean, I’m really a geek about it. In college art classes, I sat at the edge of my chair, hanging on every detail, every word. After college, I got my hands on every book on the subject I could. My appetite for the details of the history of art never slowed down. It’s still one of my greatest joys, poring over art books. I’ve even been long known — and I’m a wee bit embarrassed by this — to pile books upon books by the side of my bed. Why so many? I can never choose just one — I love them all.
I love art history because it’s world history, but it’s also about ideas. Historically, artists and art movements became famous by being the first to change something, to choose not to follow the status quo but instead begin to play with another idea.
The Renaissance translates to mean “rebirth,” and the idea was humanism. Europe was coming out of the Dark Age and celebrating in full color, with man as the subject matter of prime importance. Florence is a living breathing tribute to the movement.
Impressionism was about the value of light: the ability to get outside (thanks to newly invented tube paints) and record light as it was reflected everyday life and landscapes. In other words, what mattered most was a reaction to this new ability to get outside, work quickly and record light. Post-Impressionism was the freedom to take the Impressionists’ abstraction even further. With the camera invented and working well, painting no longer need to serve as a record of events, and artist could play with paint. Each movement in art is playing with a new idea.
This came full circle for me in explaining to my Mom what ideas I am playing with in my own work. Inspiration might come from subject matter, but what excites me in the actual process of painting is about movement, color and paint … when the motion of my hands pushing paint across canvas creates something interesting with color, something I have not seen before. It’s much more about how I feel than what I see. Seeing is secondary; painterly expression is at the forefront.
History of any kind relates to what ideas people are interested in, and art history helped me understand myself. How has history or art met you at your own front door? What ideas are you most interested in? It’s all part of the process. Comment below or come chat on Facebook!
Cheers to the art of understanding!