How To Talk About Art History

It's easier than it seems.

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“Do you know anything about silver gelatine photography?”

by Dorothea Lange

Migrant Mother (1936) by Dorothea Lange is one of the most famous silver gelatine photographs, and exemplifies the photojournalistic, realistic style that ended up defining the process.

I sure do! Silver gelatin photography, or the “dry plate” process, was actually the main form of photography used from around the 1880s up until the introduction of instant colour photography in the 1960s. It was especially popular in photojournalism, linking a technical process to an aesthetic imbued with meanings of authenticity. Since your question is quite general, I’ll do a quick overview of this method, starting with its history and technical process and then looking at its cultural impact.

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Artist Feature: Who was Kamal ud-Din Behzad?

Kamal-ud-din_Bihzad_001

The construction of castle Khavarnaq in al-Hira, c. 1494 – 1495

Movement/Style: Islamic Miniature

Country: Persia (modern-day Iran and Afghanistan)

Years: c. 1450 – c. 1535

Well, who was he?

Kamal ud-din Behzad (کمال‌الدین بهزاد) is perhaps the most famous historical painter of Persian miniatures. Like most artists in the 1400s and 1500s, however, it’s important to remember that for much of his career he didn’t work alone but was the leader of a workshop (in this case a Persian scriptorium, a kitabkhāna) producing artworks under his stylistic direction.

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“2D Op Art makes you feel like it’s 3D. So how do you create 3D Op Art?” – The Art of Optical Illusions

 

Riley,_Movement_in_Squares

Movement in Squares, 1961, by Bridget Riley.

Reader question: “2D Op Art makes you feel like it’s 3D. So how do you create 3D Op Art?”

I received this question from a jewelry designer interested in creating jewelry inspired by Op Art, but did not know how to recreate the effect in a more sculptural form. It’s true that most Op Art is created on a 2D surface – creating the effect that it seems to be jumping off the page – but, as I will go through in this post, there were actually a few sculptors even in the original Op Art movement.

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Art History 101: The Female Nude

Art in Island's reimagined version of Francois Boucher's Nude on a Sofa, complete with two young boys sneaking a peek at her butt to truly emphasize that

Art in Island‘s reimagined version of Francois Boucher’s Nude on a Sofa, complete with two children sneaking a peek at her butt. Photo by me.

I recently visited the interactive art museum Art In Island in Manila, where visitors are encouraged to take photographs with large murals painted on the walls. Some of these murals are inspired by famous works of art, and some are inspired by famous works of art featuring naked women. Seeing the way that these female bodies had been recontextualised, into a space where visitors were encouraged to interact with them, made me realize something: it’s time to talk about the Female Nude in art history.

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“What does an Art Historian actually do?”

art historian

Reader question: “What does an Art Historian actually do?”

This question doesn’t really have any straightforward answers. Although I call myself an art historian, the term “art historian” doesn’t actually directly indicate a particular profession. In short, it means someone who studies or is an expert in art history.

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“What are the most exciting fields in art history which haven’t been properly explored?”

Three examples of images from the Western art history canon: the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Le Promenade by Claude Monet, and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso. These paintings, artists, and movements (High Renaissance, Impressionism and Cubism, respectively) have all been extensively studied in art history.

Three examples of images from the Western art history canon: the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Le Promenade by Claude Monet, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. These paintings, artists, and movements (High Renaissance, Impressionism and Cubism, respectively) have all been extensively explored in art history.

Reader question: “What do you think are the most exciting fields in art history which haven’t been properly explored?”

Oh – this is a tough but great question!

It’s tough because there are just so many areas of art history that haven’t been properly explored. There are certain “popular” areas of art history that tend to get the most amount of attention in scholarship. These areas usually adhere to the Western art history canon.

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Artist Feature: Who was Albert Namatjira?

Namatjira outside the government house in Sydney, 1947

Namatjira outside the government house in Sydney, 1947

Movement/Style: Watercolour landscape associated with the Hermannsburg School

Country: Australia

Years: 1902 – 1959

Well, who was he?

Albert Namatjira (1902 – 1959) was a monumental figure within Australian art. Working in “European”-style watercolours as an Indigenous Australian Arrernte man, he painted the Central Australian landscape in ways that revolutionized ideas of what Indigenous Australian artists were capable of. His story is very connected to the fraught relationship between white Australia and Indigenous Australia.

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“Why do all old statues have such small penises?”

'David'_by_Michelangelo_JBU10

Close-up of Michelangelo’s David

Reader question: “Why do all old statues have such small penises?”

The reader who sent me this felt that it was a question that was maybe too silly for my blog, but – firstly – there are no questions too silly for this blog, and – secondly – the answer to this question is actually pretty interesting.

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Artist Feature: Who was Odilon Redon?

Self-Portrait, 1880

Self-Portrait, 1880, Odilon Redon

Movement/Style: Symbolism

Country: Odilon Redon spent his life in France, growing up in Bordeaux and later living and working in Paris.

Years: 1840 – 1916

Well, who was he?

Odilon Redon was part of the Symbolism movement, a European movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Symbolist art is similar to Surrealism in that it doesn’t seem to make any sense. However, there is one big difference between Symbolism and Surrealism: In Surrealism, it’s not supposed to make any sense. But in Symbolism, everything means something.

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“How can I love artists like Gauguin when I know so much of his work was exploitative and racist?”

Manao tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch) (1892)

Manao tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch) (1892)

Reader question: “How can I love artists like Gauguin when I know so much of his work was exploitative and racist? How can we look past the artist and appreciate the art? Should we?”

That’s a great question! This is something that a lot of people struggle with. It’s sometimes hard to admit that beautiful and famous art can also be based on racist and sexist attitudes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Paul Gauguin, he was a French Post-Impressionist/Symbolist artist who famously moved to Tahiti in the late 19th century and painted the people (more specifically, the women) that he met there.

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