03 November 2005

Art History: Problematic situation #2

This is the second of it's kind. To read the first, click here.

Many different arts have their histories divided into periods, movements, styles, etc. For example, Music, Literature, Dance, and Fine Art all have a Romantic period. Josh pointed out not long ago that there isn't much continuity of meaning when you jump from one art to another. In other words, the influences acting on Baroque music are hard to reconcile to the influences that shaped Baroque architecture. The specific case was Impressionism. While I was thinking about that I remembered something else that is rather important whenever the discussion turns to art history.

The idea that history progresses in movements and periods and ages and eras is usually a construct of the present looking back at the past, recognizing macro-trends and generalizing about them. This helps us make sense of history and allows us to sequentially progress from one phase to the next.

Sometimes art doesn't easily lend itself to being "periodized", and artists don't fit neatly into a movement. That is exactly what happened with Pop Art. Time magazine ran an article called "The Slice of Cake School" in its May 11, 1962 issue. The writer noted that several contemporary artists had, "come to the common conclusion that the most banal and even vulgar trappings of modern civilization can, when transposed to canvas, become Art."

Who was included in the Slice of Cake School? Time magazine lists Wayne Thiebaud, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. The photo credit goes to Thiebaud, who was the only one actually doing cake. It was an uncomfortable school to be sure, and even today, historians are very hesitant to refer to a Pop Art style, because stylistically, each artist was on his own.

Interestingly, Pop Art is one of the last movements that Art History can really point to. After that point, pluralism set in, the art world fractured into a hundred different segments going as many directions. Maybe our grandchildren will be able to look at what the '80s or '90s produced and find a macro-trend and make it into a movement or a period. If they can't, it may prove Arthur Danto right.


Jonas said...

I have to hand it to you Mary Ann. The posts you manage to write as often as you do are really good reads.

I really liked this post.

Matthew said...

I once saw a Campbells soup can that had been autographed by Warhol on ebay. Wish I had bought it...

Mary Ann said...

I wish I could find the reference, but I read somewhere that Warhol did sign actual campbell's cans as a sort of stunt or joke. It would be a fun novelty piece, but how much would you have to pay to get it?

Dave, I'm glad you like the site. I sure am having fun with it.