How To Talk About Art History

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Tag: Australia

The Art History of Pandemics

Watercolour painting of a group of men standing on an outdoor porch around a table working on rat carcasses. A group of men stand watching them in the background, and a man stands on the right of the painting holding a tray with a bottle of water and food.
India: a laboratory in which dead rats are being examined as part of a plague-prevention programme. Watercolour, by E. Schwarz, 1915/1935 (?). Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I’ve been writing this from April to July 2020, when the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amidst all of the fears and frustrations and disruptions of the everyday, I’ve been finding some comfort in the art and visual culture that came out of previous pandemics and epidemics from history. The Black Death used to feel like a distant historical curiosity; now, I can start to understand even a little bit of what the atmosphere might have been like.

Below, I want to take you through the diverse, beautiful, interesting, and, unfortunately, relatable art history of seven of the deadliest pandemics and epidemics throughout history, from the 100s to present day. I hope it brings some perspective or enjoyment during the strange times we’re in.

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The Top 7 Artworks That Surprised Me: Seeing Art in Person

The Mona Lisa: reproduction vs. in person.

Reader question: “Art has been a big draw factor in choosing where to go. What I have learned is seeing art in a book vs see art in person is a whole other thing. I never really got Rothko until I saw it “live”. Then whoa. It sucked me in and I had to fight to get out. My two kids and husband were also captive to it. Anyway, if you had to make a list of “Art that Surprises in Person” Or “Art you Have to Be With to Believe”, what would you put on there?”

This is actually a comment that is often made about Rothko’s work! Mark Rothko was an American painter who is generally identified as an Abstract Expressionist. His most recognisable art style consists of large rectangles set on top of each other within a coloured field.

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Artist Feature: Who is Tracey Moffatt?

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Self Portrait, 1999. Image from the Roslyn Oxley 9 gallery, Sydney. www.roslynoxley9.com.au/artists/26/Tracey_Moffatt

Note: This Artist Feature is part of an ongoing series to document the female artists whose articles were added or improved on Wikipedia during the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon I co-organised in March 2016.

Movement/Style: Contemporary photography and video art.

Country: Australia.

Years: 1960 – still alive!

Well, who is she?

Tracey Moffatt is one of Australia’s most famous and internationally renowned artists. She works with both film and photography and her work is very cinematic and theatrical. She’s especially famous for her dramatically staged narrative photographs.

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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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