View Full Version : Does Art History Reflect History?

03-23-2000, 08:28 PM
Can you tell how people thought and felt and viewed their world at a point in time by looking at their art?

Cindy Agathocleous

"What if imagination and art are not, as many of us might think, the frosting on life, but the fountainhead of human experience?" - Rollo May from The Courage to Create

03-26-2000, 05:59 PM
Absolutely - I think that looking at any art shows this.

03-27-2000, 05:34 PM
is it possible for artwork to be timeless? Please note examples.

03-27-2000, 08:59 PM
Yes and No. It depends on how accurate the artist was in his interpitation of the scene or event. If the artist fantisised or romantisized the piece it could give a ddistorted view of that period. I would use art as one part of research also using written discriptions and use several sources if possible. Of course this is just my oppionion and being a history buff I like to document my facts.

03-28-2000, 09:36 AM
If one viewed the paintings of Norman Rockwell without knowing anything else about the period in which he painted, you would have a very distorted view of the era in which he lived. His scenes portrayed an idealic lifestyle. However if one viewed all of his work and not just the "cover" paintings, you would find that he did recognize a fuller range of human emotion. I was especially impressed with one painting that was done during the war that focused on death..the sense of loss and disillusion permeated the canvas. His drawing for the piece was also exhibited which was even more

Interestingly enough, I noticed that most people didn't stop long to view that work...but walked by gazing in silence.

03-28-2000, 12:36 PM
funny, I know just which piece from Rockwell you're talking about.
I consider that and the one about the race riots his best work. But, of course people only want to see the good.

s mckee
04-03-2000, 06:51 AM
Sometimes you have to look below the surface of a picture to read what it's saying about the society in which it was produced.

Revolutionary France was buried in paintings of valiant Roman Republicans. These pictures were romanticised depictions of events that occured some 2000 years earlier. At this level then, the pictures tell us nothing about France in the late 18th/early 19th century. We have to go deeper to find the significance: what was it in the air at this time that led so many painters to paint so many similar scenes? The answer tells us volumes about what was happening in France at this time.

The same goes with Rockwell's idealized American landscape.

Paintings from medieval times don't give us as much detail about the surface texture of dinnerware of the period -- as do, say, 17th century Dutch still-lifes about dinnerware of that time and place -- but the carefully hierarchical arrangements of figures tell us a lot about the medieval mind. (At the same time, the emphasis that 17th century Dutch still-life artists placed on surface details tell us much about them as well.)

When trying to glean something about a culture from a painting, it is more important to ask 'why?' than to ask 'what?' And consequently, the pictures can't really stand on their own. Other historical sources illuminate the paintings, while the paintings illuminate the other historical sources. They work together.

04-07-2000, 04:15 PM
Originally posted by amanda:
Absolutely - I think that looking at any art shows this.

I am trying to figure out this Bulletin Board. This is a test post.

04-17-2000, 11:58 AM
It is interesting to see differnet mythical themes or subject matter picked up again and again by artists from century to century. The treatment will definately be colored by the moral, philosphical, political climate of its time. Joseph Campbell talks quite a lot about this too. certain themes, or (archetypes ) are almost timeless, but the outlook on them changes. Like it or not; we are all a product of our age.
No, I don't know if any art is truely timeless or cultureless, would an african pigmy view the mona lisa as we would?

04-18-2000, 12:03 AM
I think the significant shifts and changes in art reflect a certain consciousness raising of human beings. Perceptions are broadened or evolved. These are mainly viewed as stylistic changes to most but I view them as shifts in consciousness. A less literal view of things. Technique is probably about the same level. Possibly a bit more advanced via technology. But, the expression itself reflects the human psyche evolving. And through time, art has reflected this.

04-18-2000, 10:48 AM
No I don't think our art is necessarily more evolved than that of ancient greece, or india, or africa for that matter. And in some cultures art is totally focused around expression of the spiritual and used as a vehicle for devotion to and realization of God. I wouldn't even say we are less literal.Many primitive cultures have been less literal than ours. We are more advanced technologically, but actually a hundred years ago the technique and training of many artists far surpassed that of those today. Yes I think art reflects the psyche of an artist, but the style, subject matter, interpretation is very influenced by the outlook of the age and culture. I haven't seen great evidence that the psyche of mankind as a whole is evolving...the world certainly does not reflect this! I'd like to think that but don't see it happening....yet!

Sorry to disagree, but I really can't follow along with that! Art does seem to be the special providance of the human animal and does seem to act as a microscope into the heart of an age and culture

04-18-2000, 11:12 AM
Hey Sasha, Good points. Really Good points. But I think your view is a bit "macro" vs my view which is "micro." I do think there have been some changes in art that reflect evolution of thought and consciousness. But, they are certainly not the norm even in our culture today. I do view abstraction as one of these. I also view less strictly religious painting as an evolved perspective. Anyway, this is a complex issue. Both perspectives have truth I believe.

04-18-2000, 07:12 PM
Tanks for not responding negatively to my disagreement!!
I think this is an interesting idea...and in a way I agree...at least in theory.
There was an indian spiritual teacher...Sri Aurobindo that believed human kinds evolution is at about mid cycle and that we will evolve much more as a race in consciousness and also in our bodies...the mind/intellect is in an imbalanced overdeveloped state right now. I believe what he says is true; but it is hard to see in what is going on in the world...most humans certainly are not acting more evolved!!!

I think the change in religious subject matter has to do alot with our society /culture whihc is more focused now on the individual and personal experience...in a way this is evolved because I think it will eventually lead people to realize that spirituality is naturally existant in every part of ones life and one does not have to go to rituals and temples for that. but inbetween the letting go of structure and the awareness of natural order there is chaos...Much of asian art has long seen nature as divine.

I often wonder if abstraction is an expression of new paradigms brought on by science that we now can view the physical world as not being solid form....I can see how it developed from impressionism and the rebbellion against the awful tyranny that the salon system had become...but it is also interesting to watch how various abstract developments paralleled increasingly abstact scientific discoveries in physics which permenently altered man's perception of the world.
I don't know its interesting any way you go at it...I still believe that each age and culture is built of these viewpoints of perception. Each not necccesarily better just different

Old Florida
04-18-2000, 10:44 PM
Returning to Cindy's question, I feel the answer is--yes. But throughout time some artists conveyed their messages more clearly than others. When we don't seem understand art of a certain era it is because we judge it in terms of the rules we have absorbed from our own culture. We may never learn to decipher the earlier artists true meaning. But that is our fault, not theirs..

I propose that throughout human prehistory and down to the present, always there has been a small and constant percentage of artists in every culture. The ratio never changes.

The brilliant cave art of France and Spain was created by only a few artists because the population they represented was very small. There were many more potters to create the incredible ceramic art of prehistoric Peru. But it evolved quickly in a rapidly growing civilization. There seem to be so many "old masters" because Europe became heavily populated. Yet I believe the percentage who were artists was no different than before. Today artists number in the millions in a world packed with 6 billion. The role of the artist and their relative numbers remain the same. It is a Cultural imperative.

04-21-2000, 04:31 AM
Neat discussion! Don't forget that the patrons found something in the work, so they preserved it for us to know about. To the best of my knowlege noone has found a cache of unknown paintings from the 15th cen. That which is saved does reflect the state of mind of thoses who saved it.

God Blesses!

04-27-2000, 12:17 PM
Of course! Isn't it the nature of artists to reflect their society and what they are feeling? I know that most of the people I know and even the Masters, reflect their society, therefore their work also does. Get me?

~Happy Painter

04-27-2000, 02:45 PM
This is an interesting question.

I think that all artwork gives some hint of the artist and his times. Even prehistoric cave paintings suggest the life of its paleolithic creator.

The companion question is; do artists working today reflect our era? That is a daunting proposition because we can see the diversity of art being produced in just our small community of artists. Which are the representative pieces and artists? Does all the work need to be considered as a whole.(...an impossible task?)

If our work survives for 500 years, will the viewer take these as archetypical representations of the year 2000?


[This message has been edited by loenart (edited June 06, 2000).]

06-05-2000, 09:14 PM
I read a novel last year, title was 'The Golden Mean'. It is hard to describe the genre,....fantasy meets historical meets docu-drama.....the main theme was that art was magic, and had the power to not only define, but to change, events. Even retro-activly. Art was the subject...the object

06-14-2000, 07:49 AM
This should be a very hot topic for all of us. I think artists can relate to each other through commen human experience no matter when or where they lived. However, I do not believe art historians always define our history accuratly. In fact, I would go as far as to say they can be extremely prejudicial! When you speak, Sasha, of salon tyranny this reminds me of all kinds of tyranny in art. It has been my experince in school, who ever has the playing field eventually becomes the next tyrant. I have been a member of a guild which would only show representatioal art. Of course they'd take an expressionist into their membership. His money was as good as anybody else's. Show his work though, you've got to be kidding right? I've also aquired degrees from institutions that would make a representational artist's life a living hell! If this is the case then how can we expect art history to accurately account the art which best reflects the times. There have been a multitude of artists who have lived through wars and only painted flowers in vases. Certainly style can't always be trusted to reflect human history either! Picasso worked from African masks that had been produced by those cultures for decades. Monet, father of Immpressionism, owned and worked from Titians.(late Titians) I'm not saying that there aren't artists who reflect their time more accurately, certianly there are. I must also disagree about "religous art" developing over time. In fact, I believe there is nothing new under the sun. Ideas can be packaged diferently but they pretty much all end up back in the same place eventually. People living in present time always want to believe they are more evolved than the next guy. It gives them a greater sense of purpose I suppose. It's also trendy to quote famous people that seem important rather than ourselves. I'd rather quote Sasha or somebody else I know very well. Then I can at least be sure of where that person is coming from?