art history for the common person
July 22,2001

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"The secret of life is in art."
-Oscar Wilde, The English Romance

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"My wife always makes me feel like I can not understand movies because I do not have enough understanding of art. She went to college and graduated in humanities. But I, on the other hand, had my fill, and could not stomach it after a few semesters. We've had many warm discussions over the matter. It is true that after virtually every movie we watch I end up asking her to explain parts of it. I do not think that studying art or humanities and every thing of that nature is bad, of course. I simply thought that a person could get by in life, relatively well, without all that. so who's right? Me? or the me who partially agrees with her? or totally her?" -- Dave of Augusta
Answer: Dave, I think what you are really asking me is if you can understand movies better with a background in art or humanities. The simple answer to that is yes. Now that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a good movie without the background, and I think you can enjoy life without it. However, by studying the arts your eyes are more atuned to see subtle things (such as lighting, camera shots, images on film) that help someone understand the film in more depth. Artists, such as film makers, don't simply put images on screen in the most logical manner to tell a story. There should be feelings and ideas evoked by every image on screen if it is done well. Therefore, your wife who has studied the arts will be more apt to catch some of these feelings and ideas than others because she has trained her eyes to see and understand. Don't be dicouraged. Surprise her by reading a book on film techniques or theories. You will be surprised at how many subtleties you will catch when you watch movies. You will know what feeling is trying to be evoked with a low angle shoot. You will notice the meaning of colors (if any) in films. You have given me a good idea for an article. I will try to explain how understanding the art of film can increase your pleasure at the movies. Thank you for your provocative questions. Don'e let your wife get you down. She should feel pleased to teach someone about art, especially her husband. M.R.J.

"One reader's response to the question posed by Christy of San Angelo. " -- Rock of San Diego
Answer: I read your answer to the gal's question about her husband not liking museums. As I read it, I couldn't help but think about a chess game. Some spectators can be so glued to watching a game that they can't take their eyes off the board for a second. Other people cannot see how in the world that watching such a lame game could be so interesting. The difference is that if you don't understand how the pieces move, you really can't appreciate what happens on the board, but when you understand, it is a whole different ball game. Remember Big Blue? He was the computer that played against the world's best chess player a few years ago. You could watch that game via the internet. Anyway, that site was the busiest web site in history at the time. If chess is too complicated, it is the same with about any sport. If you don't understand how to score points and don't know the rules, watching the game won't do anything for you.

"My husband and I are going to Europe soon. I love museums, but he doesn't. How can I help him become interested?" -- Christy of San Angelo
Answer: Christy, Thank you for your question. It can be very difficult to go to a museum with someone that isn't too excited. Try the ideas I have given below to help you teach your husband about art. I feel the real reason most people don't enjoy art museums is because they don't understand what they are seeing. People need to learn to look closely and allow the feelings they have as they look at art to teach them about themselves and others. I suggest learning all you can about the art you will be seeing before you get to Europe. Find a few pieces of art that you think your husband could relate to emotionally or intellectually. Learn more about the few pieces before you go to the art museums. Take him directly to the art you have chosen for him. Give him a short little lesson on the artist or the where it was made. Anything interesting you can find about the piece use that to pull him into it. Tell him why you thought he would enjoy this particulair painting, or sculpture. Make sure you explain it well with something like, "I thought you would like this because you seem stressed like the person in this painting." You need to show the similarities the art has with your husband in as many real and concrete ways that you can. One of the most important things you can do is to understand that he may not want to spend hours in the museum like you would. However, make the time you spend there quality time. Explain a few pieces of art to him that you really connect with, and why. It can be a great activity for the both of you, and I know you will learn more about each other as you practice talking about the art. Thank you, M.R.J.

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"The search for roots and beginings is really the quest for continuation. For how can people know where they are going unless they know where they have been?"
-William Fleming, Arts & Ideas

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The Story of Art
An interesting and concise view of the History of Art


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