You need to know your art history for several reasons. Here's why
- .How are you going to make great art unless you know what it looks like? If you were learning to play the guitar you would study great guitarists. If you told me you wanted to be a great rock and roll guitarist and I asked you "hey, how about Chuck Berry?" and you replied "who?" I would know you weren't serious about learning and probably weren't going to play well until you knew your Rock and Roll history. You would be displaying a lack of curiosity about your craft. People who want to do things well, are anxious to learn all about them. Writers study great books. Actors watch old movies to see Hepburn or Brando do it fabulously.
- Many , if not all the problems you will face in painting were solved by generations of painters who built upon knowledge handed down to them. You won't live long enough to figure it all out.
- The work of those who don't know art history is instantly recognizable to experienced collectors and artists they know their art history, and may look at your art to see if you do.
- You will need it to compete in quality with other artists who do know art history
- It will educate your taste, to know the merely facile from the excellent. It provides a yardstick against which to compare all the art you see.
- It will inspire you to set a higher mark for yourself to reach.
- It is legitimately part of your job if you are an art teacher and painter, you are a leader, you need to know this too.Your students look up to you, if you blow this off, they will too.
- You live in our culture, as an artist you are either going to lead or follow. Followers look at the average crap in the "how to magazines". Leaders know the names and paintings of the greatest, and the runners up. That way the know the difference between truly great and the almost great. In the historic art as well as their own.
- Leaders know their field they are experts on the subject of their craft. (see Earl Nightingale)
- Studying great paintings is like eating great food or visiting sublimely beautiful places. It recharges your ability to go on in a world full of things and events that aren't always so groovy. It is a reward, it is treating yourself to something extraordinarily fine. We get a thrill from the sheer wonderfulness of an artistic creation. Standing in a museum before a great work of art and thinking "that's so cool" is one of the good events . Lots of things we have to do are not so exciting like carrying out the trash, or shampooing the dog, but enjoying art is a special pleasure.
- Because of the great collectors of the gilded age in particular, leaving their fabulously valuable collections to museums we can see art that was once closely held by princes and plutocrats. We can do it for the same price as an ordinary meal in a second rate restaurant, where no prince would deign to step. We have the prizes once reserved for great wealth available to us to enjoy and understand. Only several generations now have had this. The museums really didn't have great collections before about 1890 or so. Before that, all the great art was squirreled away in the hands of the super wealthy and ordinary people only rarely had a glimpse of it. You need to know a little about what you are seeing to fully enjoy this treasure that is readily available to us.
- Just like listening to great music, looking at great paintings is a source of enjoyment and gilds the experience of being alive.
- I will tease you if you don't.
For an artist it can be very lonely painting by oneself. Seeing great work by those who've gone down the path before us reminds us we are part of a long brotherhood/sisterhood of artists. They inspire us, please us, comfort us, and challenge us to keep going. In a way we are all on the same art team. ---Philip Koch