The initial concept for what has evolved into the Accessible Art Historian‘s upcoming book and this website came about in a rather Platonic manner, necessity being the mother of invention and all: After lecturing in a traditional classroom environment since 1999, I made the technological leap to teaching online in 2005.
And I quickly discovered that despite being able to work at midnight in my own home while rocking baby #2 to sleep, this online thing was proving a bit problematic for those of us who do not use notes or read from boring old textbooks. As I had nothing to upload to my first online course but still wanted a paycheck, I began writing. TheAccessible Art Historian was born.
Since then, the material has grown from a handful of conversationally written, hyperlinked posts to a goodly number of straightforward but often humorous lectures about art and its history. I briefly flirted with publishing them as a textbook, but I neglected to focus on building an audience and marketing and all those things that agents and publishers tell you that you simply MUST do.
But I kept writing.
And found out a few years later (November 2011) that other art professors at the university where I teach had plagiarized my online class and allowed it to self-teach multiple times. That whole ridiculous situation was finally resolved in February 2013, and as such, I’ve elected to move forward and publish my lectures before they turn up elsewhere and I have to wage another war with some other
corporation university. More on plagiarism later. Plus loads of free advice on how to protect yourself from this rampant but taboo campus practice.
But those are practical considerations. How about the more ideological reasons for this effort? Why bother? Let me explain.
Since I began teaching, I immediately became aware of the need to make the historical dots connect for my students. Let’s face facts: Many students in America, from kindergartners to university students, are simply not taught history, especially Western civilization, from a practical and integrated perspective.
We instead touch lightly on random historical events and personages in favor of over-teaching sensitive, politically correct and multi-cultural curricula in our fervent desire to create an open-minded, tolerant society. But what we actually are producing is a timid, easily offended culture in which the majority cannot articulate the basics of world history.
And while topics such as the history of women’s rights should absolutely be taught, we cannot afford to leave out the very basics of our collective, Western (European) past, from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods. We are, after all, indebted to these ancient and not-so-ancient people for the ideas and laws on which our current form of government is based. Culturally, our dependence on them cannot be overstated.
Sadly, we studiously avoid much of this material even in our history classes, and now we have several generations of student-citizens who think that Rubicon is a wine made by Francis Ford Coppola; that Greeks and Romans were tolerant, sexually liberated, smart and civilized while Medieval Christians were intolerant, prudish, ignorant and bloodthirsty; and that artists actually made art for themselves prior to the 19th century. In 2013, the word “patron” means tequila, not donor. The Accessible Art Historian exists to help correct these widespread misperceptions and to help you simply understand and enjoy art history, a previously unheard of option for far too many folks.
But then let’s also consider the spiritual nature of art itself. It’s no secret that most of us think of art as a means of communication (a picture is worth a thousand words) and at the same time an object or idea that is self-referential (art for art’s sake). So, if art is both commonplace and idiosyncratic, how do we then explain it, much less understand and enjoy it?
If I may beg your continued attention to how I arrived at the answer for myself, I offer below a few additional thoughts about making art history accessible.
When I began to teach at a local college in 1999, I learned the old adage that ‘you don’t truly know a subject until you teach it’ is most certainly true! My sense of anything chronological was in wild disarray –but not because I hadn’t paid attention. And here I was, contracted to teach the history of art!
Even more surprising was my shameful discovery that I couldn’t describe general biblical history in tandem with ancient and Greco-Roman history. Over twenty years of formal schooling, steady church and youth group attendance, and an ecumenical sampling of Vacation Bible Schools for more summers than I care to remember had not prepared me for questions like, “When did David live –before Socrates or after?” and “Did Moses receive the Ten Commandments before or after the Epic of Gilgamesh?”
For our complex, secular educational system, this is simply a non-issue.
For a professor of Western Art History, this is absurd.
Western art is unapologetically replete with biblical subject matter. Having a solid grasp of the stories and figures that comprise the Bible is not merely necessary – it’s absolutely critical. Unfortunately, even specialists in European art often overlook the biblical content in art, instead choosing to teach in terms of how we postmoderns feel about any given image or artist. It’s a case of identity politics gone mad.
Though no one teacher ever tried to connect the historical dots for me, I desire to save my students from a similar fate. The outcome of my quest for a commonsense, memorable integration of world history and the Bible through art gives life to the Accessible Art Historian.
Because there are so many art survey and art appreciation textbooks, the value in this book springs from a fresh approach. The conversational tone puts the reader at ease without compromising the truth or succumbing to pedantic superiority. The Accessible Art Historian’s Guide to Art is not a traditional art survey or appreciation text. These academic nightmares, while often beautifully illustrated, are notorious for almost always neglecting the rich history that is Western art in favor of lengthy units covering the principles of design, visual elements, and new media.
This book instead assumes that readers are perfectly capable of defining line and space and texture without help from a PhD. It also assumes that its readers have a sense of humor and enjoy pop cultural topics as well as fine arts. Since it emphasizes the proper historical context for each work discussed, the result is that anyone can understand the actual meaning of major works of Western art.
All said, it is the only book to date that connects the dots of how art clearly and concisely explains the ebb and flow of Western civilization within a framework that recognizes and honors the sovereignty of God.
I hope you will enjoy it, and I hope you will offer your thoughts here or on my Facebook page or elsewhere (just link back to me here, please!) about art and history and everything in between.
Thank you for visiting!