Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I Dig Art History: Marie

There is a genre of novels that are considered dystopian. They take place in some future time when the world has either had or is coming to some kind of Armageddon. The characters in these books often learn about the betrayal of their government or the fact that while they lived in some "perfect world" there were things they were ignorant to.

One common thread many of these authors use: a lack of history. Either the people are hidden from their own history or it's distorted, but there is a truth in this approach that I think we can all learn from--our history is a part of what makes us who we are. A large part, actually. Our history tells us where we came from, what we can expect, and helps us in that daily battle of understanding who we are. Art history is the same for an artist's identity as any other type of history.

Alright, so you may think I'm being a little dramatic, but think about it... the artists who are most successful have someone else they were looking towards in one way or another. Picasso knew his history well enough to be influenced by Van Gogh. David was influenced by Caravaggio, like many others before and after him. There was an entire division between groups of people who preferred Ruben's style and another who followed the style of Poussin. Even visionaries knew what went before them; it's what made them able to analyze what had been done and see where their contributions could add to the genre.

Another reason I continue to dig through the writings of artists that have gone before me is the fact that so many times, I need their words of wisdom. While reading Edward Weston's Daybooks (at least the 80 pages I got to read before school took over my life), there was an experience that I really connected with. Weston talks about taking his portfolio to Alfred Stieglitz --a famous photographer from the generation before Weston. Now keep in mind, Weston was the photographer of Modernism. He was doing work that helped elevate photography to an art and he was a mover and shaker. During this early experience, however, Stieglitz took print after print, tossing them into the trash.

Weston took the experience and learned from it. He was humble and took the criticism and I believe the advice he was given about giving attention to every little detail was what helped improve his future work. This came at a time when I was struggling with what seemed to be an onslaught of evidence towards the lack of ability in my own work. I took comfort in knowing this has occurred to photographers much greater than myself.

I hope every artist out there is able to find some other artists that they can connect with, and if you're not an artist, I hope it can help you understand where these artists were coming from. And, of course, keep the history alive by sharing your insights!

Until next time!


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