Monday, 21 March 2016

The Importance of Art and it's History 


    When we speak of History, many think of it solely as what has happened in the past,  the time which has preceded the present moment. The past  of course is a vast rich archive which we can delve into  in order to gain knowledge, seek understanding, investigate truth,  interpret facts, question evaluations, debate opinions, clarify memories, classify  influences ,elucidate  interpretations.  We inspect what came before us.  We learn. We grow.  We alter. We advance. 

    Yet, History does not solely consist of the past alone, as many also think, just as it does not consist of fact alone.  History  is a series of stories and memories, cultural, political, social,  personal, universal which are constantly being re-evaluated, re-interpreted, re-discovered, re-told . With study and hindsight History becomes revised; looked upon in a new light with the torch of truth shining on it. Revisionism allows for the conquest for reality, a continual development and refinement of so-called fact out of which a neoterism is born.   

    Art in all its forms is an integral part of History. Art History a visual story that has undergone the stages of progression from primitive to contemporary. Each movement represents the conscience and language of it's time in History via various mediums and via its individuals.   As E.H. Gombrich,  professor and author of the most popular art publication The Story of Art' states as his opening line  'There is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.'  How true he is. How can a story be told after all without a storyteller? What is a story be it verbal, sonic, visual but the sum of one persons thoughts, experiences and imagination.  When we view art is the artists world we see, an insight into an individuals thoughts on a pluralism.  As Arthur Dano the critic says 'art is pluralistic'  and cannot come into true being without pluralism. Indeed art is a diversity of views on a  variety of topics - history, politics, philosophy, literature, music, science, the list is endless. How one views these topics results in an expression of opinion. From primitive artwork such as Greek and Roman classics through Old Masters of the Renaissance  to  modern contemporaries, Art was and will be subjective to an artists interpretation of History, the surrounding world.  

    Prevalently,  the past is a place of reference, not residence. This is crucial to growth in all aspects, and is incontestably visually apparent in art.  Only by studying the past, contemplating happenings with hindsight, do we gain greater insights to the who's, what's, when's, why's, where's and how's. We discover truths that may have been skewered at the time . We discover faults. By discovering truth and fault, we grow, we change, we progress. We understand feelings. We learn. We are no longer content with old ways.We become acutely aware of the present, learning from the past no longer craving what was. This elevates us as  individuals, as a  people, as a nation, as a world, as artists.   This awareness allows for clearer expression to  not only occur but flourish and become more authentic and original. The result is a  colouring  of our culture and our humanity  with the hues of its time. History becomes  a yarn that is woven into the fabric of the present as much as the past, inseparable to it's culture, it's people, it's persona, it's art. Artists and Art become embedded in the tapestry of time. 

    Eduardo Galeano maintained that  'the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is'.  How very true.  We all carry inside us the ideas of people that came before us, both consciously and subconsciously. We decipher them, consume them, digest them, assimilate them, excogitate. Evidently, artists have consistently learned from their predecessors and progressed. A prime example is how the human body has been represented throughout Art History - from the primitive basic depictions in the ancient world, to the traditional classic reserved Renaissance depictions to the evocative  realistic representation in 19th century to the obscured unrecognizable morphed depictions  in the 20th century. 

    Understanding how and why things evolved throughout History helps us navigate towards the future. By making sense of  complexities and uncertainties, appreciating and disparaging attitudes, broadening   perspectives, and creating possibilities for innovation we become more innovative naturally. It provides inspiration and incentive, blatant perception that we  might otherwise lack.  We recognize endings or perhaps the lack there of. John Berger maintains 'it is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act'. Indeed so. This is pivotal to when we create  Art of any genre.  Consequently  we see. 'It is seeing which established our place in the world',  the obvious fact that Berger points out. It is seeing that creates our reality, affects our knowledge and  beliefs, allows the time that was to dictate  the time that is.

    To truly comprehend  Art  from  both a creative and appreciative viewpoint, it must be set in context by studying it's history.  What is Art? That is a subjective question. The desire to create  has always been at the central core of our being, a force that makes us human. We are compelled to  express our internal and external worlds, to visualize them and transfer them to material form.  When we place  visual artworks in a timeline, not only do we see how technique, materials,  and subject matter has evolved. As David Levihan the writer says of displaying art in a gallery ' we see how art has captured time, and  how time has captured us'.  Isn't capturing time, validating it and our place in it, our  role within it been man's purpose since the beginning of time itself? Time evades us if we are not careful. Perhaps  when art is created, displayed, recognized, loved, it creates a time stamp, a memory which we can attempt to comprehend. The relation between things becomes clearer. Visual art capture time more vividly or authentically than any other means as it captures  a snapshot of  a time, a vortex into the  human condition of the era, an instantaneous view. 

    Most importantly though, Art allows us not only to release emotion but to analyze it, attempt to comprehend it. It provides a commonplace rather than a terra incognita. We see the fragments  of our own soul in another persons artwork, and fragments of their souls in ours. Emotions that elude to be personal  yet are  universal, and have been all throughout time. When we view a painting for example that has been painting hundreds of years ago by an artist residing in a different context completely to our own, yet we see ourselves in his/her work. Isn't that the perplexing.   

    Art provides us with a vocabulary about things we cannot otherwise articulate. Without it we are mute, aphasiac creatures consubstantial to animate beings. It is a unique mode of expression. Art humanizes us. It provides us with a visual for the unspeakable. We can tap into our  own empathy and that of others, providing a greater grasp of the human condition.   An epiphany even.  As the great Aristotle once said 'the aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance'. Art confronts you, raises your awareness, awakens your sense of wonder, disrupts your comfort ,calms your  fretfulness, frees you, allows you to fill a void that perhaps you were oblivious to beforehand, confronts the void.  Art forces you to see rather than look, encouraging self exploration,  a vital aspect of life. 

    The evaluation of Art via the study of Art History, appreciation  or analytical viewing  has many benefits. It provides  an informed  authentic  insight into a civilization, a  culture,  a collective, a time, an individual, a mindset. It confronts what we know or think we know. Looking can be deceitful when we look from an uninformed egotistical viewpoint. We do not really see what is actually there,  our vision is blurred. Knowledge breeds observance, receptiveness, open-mindedness. We become more amenable to see what is truly being depicted.  

    Our true self becomes identifiable via art only when we understand it.  When we understand it and thus ourselves, we accept.  Our  branch  of the tree of history becomes visible, our roots grounded, our outer and inner lives flourishing.  Self discovery takes place within the context of wider discovery, just as something beautiful connect us to the greater beauty.  Hence, art is entangled into the core of  our core being: constantly nourishing us, nurturing us, beautifying us,  encouraging us to bloom, whether you are a creator or a voyeur. To fully embrace Art is to embrace the beauty that nature instilled in us, recognize it, appreciate it  and  allow it to grow and  enrich not just our lives and the lives of others.What could possibly be better than that...

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