When I tell people that I study Art History as an A-Level, there are always 3 types of responses. The completely bemused yet faintly interested individual who asks if it ‘involves drawing and stuff?’, which contrasts to the ‘I am so cultured and can tell you all about Botticelli’s ‘Venus D’Urbino’ and Titian’s ‘Birth of Venus’. And then there is my personal favourite, the ‘Art History is a total fluff subject for Middle Class airheads who want to appear vaguely intelligent’- this one really stimulates the intellectual argument. To all of these responses, I try earnestly to explain the value of learning Art History and the insight it gives you into areas of other subjects, which more often than not will link with certain aspects of Art History and are extremely useful to be aware of. The simplest way to explain the fundamentals of Art History; it is the study of a vast period of History through the eyes of the art and the story it reveals. Learning Art History is essentially just a far more engaging and interesting way of recognising different eras in history and acknowledging other cultures through the artwork and architecture of the time. Not only do you get an understanding of the art itself, but there is also a burgeoning appreciation that grows with your knowledge of the subject as to the customs of other cultures and the people outside of our own cushioned worlds.
I’ve come to realise that Art History is just as much important as English Literature or History, and it’s due to total ignorance that it is not regarded with the same prestige as other predominant humanities subjects. If people took the time to engage with art and actually think about what they were looking at, instead of focusing on whether or not they liked it, whether or not its aesthetically pleasing, or whether or not they could ‘paint that themselves’, then the barrier of ignorance could be lifted and people would see what has been right in front of them since Byzantine Madonna. There is also no excuse living in one of the capital cities of the Art World, that us as Londoners completely disengage from the art that is available at every pigeon infested street. There are hundreds of exhibitions and galleries all over London that people acknowledge are there and understand the privilege of, but never take advantage of the fantastic opportunities available to them. Going to a gallery doesn’t have to be a solo occasion. It can be made a day out with a group of friends, go with someone who is total expert or someone who doesn’t know their Monet’s from their Manet’s, it’s entirely your choice.
If you remember at least one thing from this mini-rant, apart from knowing never to ask an Art Historian about what it is they actually do, it’s that the world of Art is a fantastic, magical and ultimately inspiring place- if you only take the time to look, you will be overwhelmed by the power and beauty of a whole other world you just haven’t taken the time to see.
Visit the Tate this weekend! Address is: Tate Britain Millbank London SW1P 4RG United Kingdom/ 2 minute walk from Upper School! Or visit the website http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain.
By Seren Williams, Tate Ambassador