So here’s the thing, I am a serious art lover. I go to as many galleries and exhibits as possible, where I often buy prints from the showing artists. I have a sizeable collection of books about art museums, movements, artists and more. I follow more than enough art magazines (including the one where I currently work) and am always on the lookout for breakout artists who are simultaneously perfecting their skill and pushing outside the limits of creativity.
This all started when I took the AP Art History class at my high school during my senior year. This was one of the most difficult AP classes offered because, not only did we have college-level nightly reading and over 1,000 notecards to study, which all featured a different work of art. But it was also difficult because the ending test featured at least half of the art on our notecards, for which we had to know the title, artist, dates, medium and other significant trivia. The test also required answers for seven short answer questions and two essays. Needless to say, it was daunting to even be in this class.
But I loved every part of it. It was like a picture-book version of a history class. Who wouldn’t love that?
This lead to further studies in college where I received a minor in Art History and hope to obtain my masters in the subject in the near future. It has also lead to an uncontainable love and need to talk to other people about the art, both past and present. Therefore, I have decided to make Wednesdays Art Talk days. Each Wednesday, we will talk about a historical era, artist or specific work of art, any news in the art world, recent exhibitions and art festivals, and more. At the end of each post, I will recommend an artist whose work I think you should know about. These will be contemporary artists who are continuing to create, or who are starting to break out onto the scene.
I realize that a lot of people are daunted by the discussion of fine art. And that’s okay. It is pretty daunting when people start throwing around words like encaustic, chiaroscuro and plein air. And I’m not looking for a thesis level discussion. I’d just like to hear your thoughts. What you think of the pieces, the style and the artist. What do you like? What don’t you like? How do you interpret the subject at hand?
However, in order to begin this discussion, we all need to have a bit of background. So for the first Art Talk, I’ve decided to provide a sort of crash course in art history. Here we go:
This era spans the years of roughly 2.5 million – 800 BC. This includes your paleolithic cave drawings of horses and bison across Europe. It also includes the Stone Age, so think fertility goddesses and Stonehenge (although still, no one knows how that actually came to be.) And, in addition to the mediterranean precursors to Greece, we have the plethora of art from Ancient Egypt including sarcophagi, sculptures, jewelry, death masks and other relics placed in tombs.
Spanning 800-400 BC, this era includes the classical greek art including the black and red pottery seen in films like Disney’s Hercules, as well as the larger-than-life statues of Greek legends, like David and the Venus de Milo. It also includes Roman art in all it’s capacity, including more marble statues and the beautiful architecture seen in the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Pompeii. At the end of this era, we move into Christian art, as Christianity overtook Europe.
This age, known commonly as the Medieval times (pun intended), stretched from 450-1050 AC and prominently featured gold. Like, a lot of gold. We start to see two-dimensional images of characters from The Bible, and those holy figures (like Jesus) sport round gold disks behind their heads, meant to be halos. We also see illuminated manuscripts of texts, mostly The Bible, that are meticulously illustrated with, you guessed it, gold. The idea of these was to create illustrations that would come to life when held against the light. After the Dark Ages, we see The European Revival, which brought the enormous cathedrals, such as Notre Dame, that we’ve all come to know and love.
This iconic era that covered 1400-1530 showed us the real stretch of art as a means of understanding. It brought us the dark and serious renditions of Bible stories that decorate cathedrals and churches across Europe. These include such iconic works as the Pieta, The Last Supper and the narratives of the Sistine Chapel. The era was the height of artist careers whose names have become mainstream, including: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer and many more. When most people think of fine art, they are most likely thinking of something from the Renaissance.
This era is followed by several other distinct movements where things became more theatrical and indulgent. This was closely followed by a resurgent interest in Classical Antiquity, as well as soft Romanticism and the stark Realism.
If a person doesn’t immediately go to the Renaissance as their vantage point on art, he or she will most likely go to Modern Art. A range of movements took us from 1870 to 1970.Europe remained central in the art world where impressionism introduced us to the new phenomenon of the abstract. Masters including Monet, Degas and Manet propelled the art scene. We saw the gorgeous Art Nouveau, which dominated architecture on the East coast of the United States. Possibly the most famous of artists worked during this time: Vincent van Gogh. Abstract Expressionism hit the scene and really put America on the art map with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko (my favorite.)
This time included Cubism (Pablo Picasso), Surrealism (Frida Kahlo), Pop Art (Andy Warhol) and Minimalism. These years were critical to the metamorphosis of fine art.
And here we’ve arrived at the present. Thousands of artists are creating new things everyday, and the era continues to be defined by art that moves off traditional canvases. We see more performance and digital art. Installations and art that uses or modifies the earth have shaped the artistic landscape. Conceptual art — probably the most difficult to comprehend — continues to challenge our traditional thinking and artistic comfort zones.
Of course, I left a lot out. My hope is that this crash course helped to lay a type of blue print for a basic understanding of where the art world has come from and how it has changed. My other hope is that we will be able to discuss specific movements in depth as the column continues. I encourage you to research more of what might interest you from this post. If you want some more guidance or suggestions on that, feel free to comment or message me!
We will begin artist recommendations during the next Art Talk. For now, live long and create often.
Who are your favorite artists? What are your favorite art movements? What do you want to learn about fine art? Let’s talk.