I’ve been studying Kenneth Clark’s The Nude : A Study in Ideal Form at the Atelier. I am not well versed in art history, so a lot of what Clark says goes zooming over my head into the stratosphere. I spend as much time scouring the internet to find information about the artists Clark mentions as I do reading the darn book.
It’s a tough book to crack. Clark’s language is flowery and dense, and often his statements reference deep-seated cultural assumptions that irritate me. Celestial and vegetable venus indeed. But this tiny bit of study of my artistic heritage (a heritage artists all share) has made me think about what I’m trying to do and say with my own work. About what it might mean to reference older traditions and cultures. And how those cultures are reflected in the prism of the art of our modern world.
Sue Smith at Ancient Artist writes, “Because we live in our own time, when the modernism driven by the critic-influenced 60’s led to a period of post-modernism that commercialized the idea of art nearly out of existence, we are now seeing a rudderless homogenization of ideas. Of catch phrases characterized by ambiguity. Perhaps we have lost the idea of what constitutes art.”
It seems to me that by knowing what went before—knowing and understanding our artistic genealogy—we artists can use it to inform their own art. We can transform the styles, methods, and means into something that speaks to people today. We can hope to create new ideas of what constitutes art (multiple ideas, because people like as many styles of art as they like styles of pie). And the most important of those ideas will be as solid, strong, and long lasting for our time as the idea of sculptural morality was for Polykleitos or the idea of simplifying the female form was for Matisse.