Two of the most dreaded words to some creatives (students and professionals alike). Why? Is the information boring? Is the content un-relatable? Sure, some periods of art (ahem, Etruscan Art...) may not pique the interest of the average creative, perhaps due to the less-than-empathetic reaction it generates. But it seems curious that some creatives, especially relatively fresh artists, have little to no recognition or interest in retaining historic information.
I find this particularly curious, since in many other creative fields, one might find a plethora of knowledge about historic influence, from even those with no classical training. Take for instance music. If one decides to be a musician (perhaps at an early age), they would have knowledge and be influenced by predecessors and current trends in the field. For instance, if one chose to be interested in being a rock genre guitar player, they are probably familiar with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Slash, and would be able to recognize a style of music from a particular band (ie - decipher the difference in sound between the Rolling Stones vs. the Beatles). This is a sensory perception; one that someone with a passion for the field would have a desire to enhance. Similarly, experiencing art is [generally] a visual sensory perception. Auditory and visual experiences are comparable. Both can be powerful; both can evoke reaction. But there seems to be a lack of interest or retention of historic influence within the visual creative realm.
While it would be, to some degree, possible (and probably realistic) to point a finger in any number of directions, it seems futile to focus on what has not been done to invoke interest, but instead target strategies to improve the enthusiasm, and increase retention of information.
How can you improve your own interest in historic (and current) influence?
- Immerse yourself in information. Constant repetition of content will eventually create retention. But that can have adverse effects, if you are unable find excitement about the information.
- The solution: Find amusing or engaging facts about artists that help create empathy and curiosity about the work... beyond just Van Gogh's self-destruction (we're all pretty familiar with that chestnut). The lesser known Caravaggio, for instance, was known beyond his work as an Italian painter in early 17th century as a fighter, murderer, and pedophile. Stories about his personal life and career are hard to forget.
- Consider one very memorable piece (ie DaVinci's "Mona Lisa" or Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Memory") that you are visually interested in, and find more work from that artist to build a repertoire of images you find aesthetically appealing.
- Take a class. Pay attention to the lessons. Take notes. Involve yourself in discussion.
- Allow yourself to be influenced by historic reference in your own work. The more cognizant you are about what inspires you, the stronger your work will become as a result.
- Visit a gallery. The best way to retain a visual image is to experience it in person.
Art history is a fascinating field, and one for which every creative should have a degree of understanding and appreciation. While the ability to purely regurgitate information is not necessarily the goal, being influenced and inspired by historic imagery will enhance work as a creative, and will heighten your personal experience, perception, and appreciate for visual work in general.