Sunday, October 19, 2008

Should You Take An Art History Class?

When it comes to college majors, it's interesting to me that all art majors need to take Art History. This amuses me; after all, it's more often than not looking at the history of painting alone, as if painting encapsulated the whole of art. There are classes that delve into the history of other fields, don't get me wrong, but art majors aren't required to take those classes, and they're not even mandated for their respective majors.

Read: As a writing major, I'm not required to any writing history classes, but I am required to study paintings. And that just feels weird.

However, I am a big fan of taking advantage of bad situations, and finding ways to turn them around. So...what is the advantage of a writer taking a class that's delving into the visual arts?

Obviously, even for potential comic scripters, there really isn't a major advantage at looking at paintings; most paintings don't really tell a story so much as they are pre-camera photographs. The vast majority of paintings were created as markers and wall decorations, The vast majority of painters, then as now, are mostly self-taught, and tend to take classes not to learn the basics but to refine their abilities.

So what is the value for writers?

Writing is about details. On writer's forums, it not hard to find people asking the most interesting questions, from a turn of phrase in Ancient Latin to how to kill someone and get away with it. Writers want those details both because it helps them get characterization right but it also makes them look like experts. Consider how much fun armchair historians had with the Titanic movie, or any biopic, and you should be able to quickly surmise that being considered being an expert should be something worth being. And the more of an expert that you are considered being, the more respect people will have for you, and the more likely that they are to want to read what you have to say.

And that's a good thing. Honest!

An art history class gives you an interesting way to learn a lot of weird stuff, and quickly. It shows you social mores, fashions, weapon details, and basically what people considered important enough to jot down for several millennia. By exploring art history, you can explore the mind of man since he first painted aurachs on a cave wall, and explore how we have changed since that point in our deepest memory. Especially when you realize that they are more accurate than writing, and were vital for non-literate societies.

You learn to appreciate just how much any person is a product of their era, and what that person had to deal with. You get a better appreciation for what created that person, and what it took for a person to survive on a daily basis in that era. More to the point, it's fun when you realize that people that we know so well could not have been created in any era but the one in which they lived. Einstein, for example, is a Jew; not trying to be anti-semitic, just making the point that due to the way Jews were treated throughout history, Einstein would faced an uphill struggle in order to just be taken serious, much less have risen to the top of the heap and have been able to affect national policy.

So it may be annoying to deal with the obligatory art history, but try to see it as a way to explore the past through the cheap time machine of visual images, and enjoy the trip!

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