A Short Biased History of Art

"Perhaps the eclectic nature of artistic experimentation will render the ahistorical nature of contemporary art a complete victory. Certainly the Renaissance, once of central interest to the public and to artists, has declined in importance and has been made irrelevant in much contemporary art, as has the notion of history and the idea of timelessness." ...........huh?

       I've always thought that much of what I've read about art gives artists credit for an insight that doesn't really exist. What are the goals of the artist? "To offer us the profoundest explorations of the human condition...to go beyond the facts of the material world and give form to the formless, to the unknowable," as Michael Wood suggests or "fame, money and beautiful lovers," as Freud believed. The artists I know are simply honing a craft and raising families, and I think that is how it has been for most artists throughout history.

      I first became interested in art history when I began making paint. I realized art is a technology and when looked at in that way its history makes sense and I can see why things look the way they do. It probably all began with a burnt stick and the first wave of innovation was in color. First, gathering it and then making it. It is a pursuit that continues to the present day. One of the great inventions in all history occurred during the age of mud: the brick. Bricks could be stacked into ziggurats. Civilizations grew up around these temples. Trade in color and the best clays for pottery connected them. The first real paint probably developed along a coast when someone mixed color into the wax he was using to waterproof his boat. Mixing color with an egg made a paint that was water soluble and had far more uses. The distillation of turpentine made the use of oils in paint possible and the artist had a paint that could render form. Stretched canvas allowed paintings to be large and worked on in the studio where previously it had been on a wall in fresco. When the collapsible metal tube came along the artist could leave the studio to work on location and anyone could buy colors, canvas, a brush and call themselves an artist. That changed everything.

     I put A Short Biased Art History together for myself, trying to connect the dots in my own mind. I would like to look at a painting and understanding its time, know how it relates to what came before and after. I am an artist not an academic and use that as my bias. Does that give me unique insights? I doubt it, but I enjoy looking back at the work from another time and imagining what was going on.