I wasn’t particularly interested in Art History in school.
Too many dates to remember, too many styles to memorize, and too many artist’s names to make sense of, which by the way, sounded too similar and I always spelled the wrong way.
Of course, we can always blame a bad teacher or remember a good one, to justify our gaps or our passions as adults.
We often forget to talk about the methodology though. Which in my schools’ case, was memorization and assessment.
As a student I was convinced that my ability to understand Art History was directly related to my ability to remember the names of each decorative section of a greek building*, who made them, and in what year. And since I was never a good retention student, I never had a good relationship with the subject.
I’m 52 years old now, and I am studying Art History on Khan Academy. It’s been 11 months since I started and at a pace of one lesson per day (more or less) I’m in the middle of the Florentine Renaissance.
I keep telling my family, “These are the most fun 10 minutes of my day”.
Which makes me wonder… Have I changed so much that now I love that which I used to be indifferent? Have I matured? as my father would say.
My motivation for studying is fueled by a need; Now that we are traveling around the world with access to many of the best museums and art, I want to be able to guide the kids through some of these masterpieces and the civilizations that created them, the reason behind them and what they meant at the time.
And since Khan Academy does a really good job designing the course around “digestible size” lessons, built around video and storytelling, I’m relating those stories to the kids as I learn them.
It’s been really interesting to see the kids reactions when I shared with them the significance of the Guernica by Picasso, or the story behind the Paradise Doors at the Baptistery of St John in Piazza del Duomo in Florence.
They loved the story behind the Door, the competition between artists, why doors were decorated, and why would they do it in a building just used for baptisms.
But my explanation of the significance of the Guernica wasn’t as impactful. They appreciated the “twisted angles, weird eyes and sad colors”, but they didn’t connect with the story.
I had to reflect on this, because I wanted to understand what made some art more interesting than others for the kids.
Kids, or a 51 years young father, are interested in the why. Why is this important? Interesting? Worth my time and my attention?
The Greek myths are a perfect example.
The kids could hear about artistic accomplishments of the greeks for 2 minutes, but the stories behind the people the buildings were built for? Hours!
The love, hate, passion, envy, humor that drive us to build pantheons, and arches; paint and sculpt, write and compose, are the ones kids are interested in.
Since that realization I try to share with them the stories behind the creation of art. Because just like Khan Academy figured out, Art is mainly about the stories.