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Lesson Plans

Re: artsednet-digest V2 #1255

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Henry Taylor (taylorh)
Sun, 21 Feb 1999 09:30:35 -0700

<< Would anybody like to tell me why art history is important in teaching
art? >>-michelle price

Well, whay would it be important to study Plark History? One could enjoy
Plark, create Plark and share Plark without any history, right? Think about
Plark. What's your favorite example?

The question of WHAT exactly Plark is lies (or would lie, actually, there is
no Plark) in its history. We cannot define a thing without considering what
it was when we first encountered it and where it has been. We cannot move
into the future untill, by refering to the past, we discover which
"direction" the future is from "here."

It seems to me that, like it or not, the history of a thing defines it and
makes it accessible to us. Even in the currently popular context (maybe
especially in that context) all the known artists would become invisible
without history's record. Even last week's show is history. And, we haven't
even gotten close to talking about retrospectives.

History is great. BUT, it is not without it's problems. It is said that
history is written by the winners. It's a little simplistic to put it that
way but there is a point to the aphorism. Popular views tend to become
dominant.. to be precise popular views from the dominant "institution." In
the world of art there is an "artworld" comprised of a set of people who
deal continually maybe almost exclusively with art. The BIG players all know
or know of each other, same goes for their "Boswells" the people who keep
track of them journalists and critics and philosophers of aesthetics.
Somewhere along the line the sculptor Beverly Pepper gave a number to the
artworld--it was not a large number as I recall, not in the millions not in
the tens of thousands.

History is only a small slice of the past and being small it reflects
biases. (Not necessarily conscious or intentional ones BTW) The authority
attributed to a historian can go beyond anything reasonable. Faith in the
absolute authority of Aristotle as a historian of science effectively
blocked much development in science for centuries but that's a rare

History is "about" a thing not the thing itself. It is possble to get
entirely wrapped up in the "abouts" and pretty much ignore the thing. One
can know "about" art without having any experience IN art without practicing
it. It is possible to know a great deal about a thing, especially if one is
an expert in about aspects. Such an expert can "Know" more than a
practitioner... that is to say have more facts at his command. It is NOT to
say that they have a complete picture. Not having the experience the expert
must rely on speculation and interpretation. That's weak history.

Military texts written by commanders are narrower than those written by
academic historians but often more immediate and pertinant. Military history
without the likes of Sun Tsu or Clauswitz would look shallow. Increasingly
over the years artists have been allowed if not encouraged to be less than
verbally articulate. It is a rare artist who could write a decent history...
but they are out there. In general and for whatever reason, artists prefer
to do art.

Can we imagine a world with art and without history? Yes and no. Here's one:

The anthropologist Ruth Bunzel was studying Pueblo ceramics in New Mexico.
It was difficult to determine where the designs came from. All of the
potters could recognize examples of work from other potters and other
Pueblos but they had nothing obvious to refer to in the matter. When Bunzel
attempted to recreate Pueblo designs on her own it was either a copy
(unacceptable) or hilariously "wrong." No one could tell her the "rules."

Bunzel watched. Eventually she noticed that potters would wander in the
desert and visit Pueblos that their people had abandoned picking up shards
as they went. These shards were collected and kept for a while. They were
never formally "studied" or copied. They were just nice things kept around,
a token connection to potters and the tradition of potters of the past.
But, evidentally it constituted a history, it was what apparently functioned
as art history among these people.

This emphasises the role of "familiarity" as history. The things we become
familiar with shape our knowledge and experience and our choices. The
familiar becomes a benchmark in our lives. The domain of the familiar is not
a deep one--unless-- like the Pueblo potters we continue to reinfuse our
lives by returning to the scenes of the past the resources of tradition.

The potters of Mata Ortiz are another example; a unique one. For the shards
were prehistoric and the connection to the tradition by beople in that area
had been long abandoned. One potter began to ressurect the design traditions
of ancient CasasGrandes pottery--it spread to the village--today new
designs/ motifs are being added to the restored tradition and these connect
to the familiar life of the people. It is now living tradition and no longer
simply an activity of reproduction. There was no history book involved in
this renaissance either.
But it was ALL ABOUT history.

To be without history is like contracting Altzheimers maybe. At the same
time we ned to be careful and be involved not just relying on the rumours
and narrow vision of the historian of "about".

You CAN teach art without art history.....kinda. In all probably you are
using aspects of history without thinking about it. Sometimes things move
faster when history is refered to... in some situations you can build on or
from familiar traditions.

The history is always there and you can avoid misimpressions,
misunderstandings even if you use it.

take care