Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Baffling Series of Events: Kenna Likes Art History!

Don't get me wrong, world history is great. All those cultures and wars and politics and whatnot. I've taken a fair amount of history classes in my day, I've watched a fair amount of historical documentaries, I've even read books on the subject. And I've quite thoroughly enjoyed all of it. It's great, really.

But here's the thing: if you were to ask me for a sampling of my historical off-hand knowledge, I wouldn't be able to tell you diddly-squat. Zilch. Nada.

But why not?(as you may be asking yourself) If you really are as well-read as you claim to be, surely you could at least give us the cliff-notes version of what started WWI? Or a summary of the USSR? What about the Mongols? Tell us about the Mongols...

I'd love to, but no-can-do, friends. I read it, listen to it, study it, and none of it sticks. Names, dates, places...none of it sticks in my brain no matter how hard I try. My brain is like Teflon when it comes to world history.

And then I took my first Art History class. And everything changed... (*insert magical harp music*)

Now I find myself looking at paintings and recognizing things like chiaroscuro, contraposto, and tenebrism. Not only recognizing them, but remembering and understanding what those words mean and where they come from.

Now, much to my surprise, you could pick a random year and if I can think of a work of art or artist from that decade, I can extrapolate and tell you what was going on in the culture at that time, the socio-political structures being questioned, and innovations that were being made.

This all sounds very strange...why Art History and not History in general? (as you may be wondering)

Well I'll tell you!

(*insert crickets chirping*)

I really don't know.

As much as I would love to be able to impress people with random tidbits of information concerning the general history or our planet at dinner parties, I will have to settle for being the nerdy gal at the table whose only conversational contributions revolve around art (and sometimes in desperately obscure ways, I confess).

I have taken the time to theorize on this phenomenon, and here are my conclusions:

  • Perhaps I gravitate to Art History because of the visual aspect. Being able to look at a picture, an image, and break it down to it's formal qualities and then relating those qualities to a time period, seems like an easier way to memorize dates and places.
  • Perhaps it has to do with the creative aspect. I love drawing and painting and have great appreciation for literature. Studying the history of the evolution of human beings' creativity possibly sparks a part of my brain, inspires it to retain information, in a way that the history of The American Civil War simply does not.
  • My final theory is that art provides a more vivid look into the minds of the people belonging to a certain time period. Their art provides us with insight as to what they were concerned about, the issues they were fighting over or defending, their hopes and fears and even examples of their every day lives. The art they've left us is a visual representation of their psyche, their imagination, their emotional state.

What other subject of study can give you that?

I'm interested to know if you are interested in Art History for the same reasons, or if you have reasons of your own. Why do we care about Art History, of all things? Totally open forum here. Let's discuss!


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