But, there are a few more points I'd like to make in answer to Mark's great question. First, our work is evaluated by art critics, gallery directors, museum curators, and savvy collectors who judge us in comparison to our contemporaries as well as to historical artists and art "isms." These people make decisions with a knowledge of art history, so I think it would be an asset to every artist to know what those who pass judgement on our work know.
Second, this is my journey and so I have a personal reason for taking it. Here's an anecdote to illustrate my reason why. Two decades ago I had the unfortunate experience of divorcing after a twenty year marriage. During the separation period, I was eating a bowl of ice cream (no longer on my diet!) and suddenly - in a flash - thought "why am I eating this flavor?? I don't even like it!" That's when I realized that I was eating that flavor because he liked it and insisted that we eat it at home. The rest of the realization was that I had acquired all kinds of habits and preferences that were his and that I had almost completely suppressed myself. So, I began the painful process of examining and questioning everything I did in order to "find Kathy." It took years, but once I found myself, I sprang to life and rapidly improved and advanced my life and career!
My development as an artist is similar. I was trained by others - told how to work and think. Yes, I was allowed a certain latitude for creativity, but the influence loomed large. So, now I'm looking at this "bowl of ice cream" and saying to myself: WHY do I think this way as an artist? Where did these art theories, which were instilled in me, come from? How did they originate? How have they influenced my work? If I can figure this out, then I have a better chance of advancing.
Another great question comes from my good friend Don Michael, Jr. (http://www.donmichaeljr.com/blog/) who asks why I'm examining Western Art when there's a whole world of art out there. The reason is because I am the product of Western art theory, so that's what I must examine in order to understand the roots of my thoughts.
So, back to Williams book. I'll make this brief since I've already written a lot.
Yesterday, I quickly moved through the Ancients, and stopped right before Medieval art, a time when artists were still preoccupied with ancient themes, but made them more elaborate. Because the leading thinkers of that period were members of the Church, the value of art was defined in religious terms. So, they were sensitive to the psychological function of images, which led to a preoccupation with signs and symbols. This preoccupation has waxed and waned over the years, and seems to have a foothold in today's art scene from what I've witnessed.
I'll make a quantum leap to the Renaissance. An Italian named Leone Battistsa Alberti published a book in 1435 called On Painting. I mention this because it's regarded as the first work of early modern art theory and nearly every idea that it contains was taken up, elaborated, and codified over centuries later. And, it's a major influence on my work. Here are the notable aspects of his book:
- an explanation of the optical and geometric principles governing "perspective"
- description of the science and mathematics of painting to "add intellectual dignity to the craft"
- insistance that the artist represent emotion, character, and ideal beauty
- division of the processs of painting into: circumscription (drawing of outlines), composition (arrangement of forms) and reception of light (modeling and coloring)
- emphasis on the narrative aspect of a painting (content)
Alberti's idea is that the painter's ability to orchestrate an irresistable emotional response from the viewer is an indication of his psychological insights and philosophical depth. And, this was considered a very important goal. I recognize the influence of Alberti's ideas upon my own training and way of thinking. And, I now know that his work developed in response to the necessity to organize and formalize very elaborate Medieval art - to get it under systematic control. Imposed order - yeah, I get that!