Friday, January 20, 2012
Knowledge Through the Back Door
In 1958, the Metropolitan Museum of Art conducted a series of educational seminars to teach the public about visual arts. Last year, I purchased a few books written in connection with the Met seminars to help me with my Integrated Arts course.
As I perused my new possessions, I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks. I continued to ponder its meaning for quite some time, and it is usually difficult to sidetrack me when engaged in reading. Nevertheless, since I recently wrote a post where I opined about what art was not, I thought I would post the quote I discovered, which deals primarily with paintings:
“A painting is a layer of pigments applied to a surface. It is an arrangement of shapes and colors. It is a projection of the personality of the man who painted it, a statement of the philosophy of the age that produced it, and it can have a meaning beyond anything concerned with one man or only one period of time.”
I had never before seen this definition, but it occurred to me that there is much to learn in this statement, not only about visual arts, but also about Philosophy, History, and other concentrations in the field of Humanities. Think about how interesting a History course might be if it were presented solely via visual arts, without the written word or a flood of dates. How exciting would a philosophical study of world societies be if we set aside Socrates, Kant, Descartes, and Sartre, focusing only on the visual arts of their respective eras?
If you are up for a challenge, do a little research on two famous works of art. The first is an important icon of prehistory discovered by archeologists in 1908. It is called the Venus of Willendorf, created at least 25,000 years ago. The figurine rests at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.
The second is the well-known Venus de Milo of the late second century BC and can be viewed at the website for the Louvre in France.
A comparison of these treasures reveals voluminous information about the attitudes, especially toward women, of human societies existing thousands of years apart.
My point is simply this. Perhaps, some of us should find other methodologies for learning more about our ancestors and ourselves, instead of rejecting the deep glance backward through the ages because History and Philosophy are academic subjects, too time consuming and mind boggling to fit into our busy adult lives. Visual arts just might provide the solution to any gaps widened by our ever-changing education system.
While we are on the subject, why is it that whenever education budgets grow tighter, visual arts are the first to meet the axe?