Art History and Trends
Can art have a history? We think about art as being timeless, the ‘beauty’ of its appearance having meaning, significance, and appeal to humankind across the ages. At least this usually applies to our ideas about ‘high’, or fine, art, in other words painting and sculpture. This kind of visual material can have an autonomous existence — we can enjoy looking at it for its own sake, independent of any knowledge of its context, although of course viewers from different time periods or cultures may see the same object in contrasting ways.
When we look at a painting or sculpture, we often ask the following questions: who made it?; what is the subject?; when was it completed? These are quite valid questions that are often anticipated and answered in, for example, the captions to illustrations in art books and the labels to works displayed in museums and galleries. For many of us these pieces of information are sufficient. Our curiosity about the who, what, and when of art is satisfied and we can get on with appreciating the artwork, or just enjoying looking at it.
For those of us also interested in how, information on the technique used — for instance, oil or tempera — might help us to appreciate further the skill of the artist. The important thing to note about this kind of art appreciation is that it requires no knowledge of art history. The history of an individual work is contained within itself and can be found in the answers to the questions who, what, when, and how.
These are the kinds of details that appear in catalogues of museum and gallery collections or those produced for art sales, where perhaps information about the original patron (if relevant) might also answer the question why. Auction houses, museums, and galleries also place emphasis on the provenance of a work of art.
This is the history of who has owned it and in which collections it has been held. This acts as a kind of pedigree for the work and might be used to help prove that it is an authentic work by a given artist. All this information is important in determining the monetary value of a painting or sculpture but need not necessarily be important for art history.
In this way, art appreciation requires no knowledge of the context of art; the ‘I know what I like and I like what I see’ approach to gallery- going is sufficient. And this is absolutely fine. We can enjoy looking at something just for what it is and art can become absorbed into what might be called popular culture.
Art appreciation can also involve the more demanding process of criticizing the art object on the basis of its aesthetic merits. Usually aspects such as style, composition, and colour are referred to, and more broadly reference is made to the artist’s other work, if known, or to other artists working at the same time or within the same movement or style.
Baroque Art & Painting
Cubism & Cubist Theory
Frida Kahlo and Her Art
Leonardo Da Vinci
Photography in Art
Surrealism in Art
Symbolism in Art