“Everything” you need to know about art history

Bargain Art History

Last weekend I was in a bookstore (it’s a pretty rare occurrence in these strange times…). I was excited to find a book with the enticing title of “Art History: Everything you need to know to master the subject–in one book!”

Of course, the first thing I did was open it up and look at the table of contents.

What do you notice?

And then I took pictures and sent them to Shae so someone else could share in my outrage.

I did not look through and see what the ratio of men to women was. Based on the fact that the table of contents was entirely centered on Europe, I am going to guess the ratio was not great.

“ALL” I need to know about art history and you only write about Europe??? No thank you.

Maybe that’s why it was on the discount shelves.

Actual Art History

I finished the section on the Ancient Near East and moved on to Ancient Egyptian art. One of my favorite authors and book series is Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody book series. Peters was actually an Egyptologist (her real name was Barbara Mertz) and Amelia and her family were Egyptologists in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Having read those novels several times, I fancy that I have a tiny bit of Egyptology knolwedge under my belt. Also, watching all those seasons of Stargate seems like it qualifies me to pretend to know something.

(I’m kidding)

I think the most interesting thing I learned was that over the 3000 years that Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted, there was a ton of continuity in the imagery they produced. Here in modern times, our attention span is about 5 minutes. But there are images of kings with similar poses and royal costumes that are 3000 years apart that are very similar.

Egyptians believed in part that this continuity proved that their culture and beliefs were correct. And that the images they created had a power and meaning beyond the image itself. The imagery governed the afterlife and heaven forbid if the king was shown in an image with the wrong tool! His afterlife would be ruined!

What’s Next

I still have to finish Ancient Egypt and then I’ve got Ancient Greece and Rome to look forward to. And I’m not saying that sarcastically! I’m truly enjoying this trip through ancient art and the way that it is presented by Khan Academy is just right for me. The videos and readings are just long enough to get some good information in, and just short enough that I can watch or read one or two here or there.

Which is perfect, since I’m also trying to do a million other projects at the same time!

Drawing and painting girls

Shae and I have talked about how we aren’t very good students. We’re the ones that sit in the back and read ahead and figure stuff out on our own and get a little impatient with everyone else.

Apparently, I’m such a bad student that I can’t even follow the plan I’ve set for myself!

Which is not to say I’m not making any art and seeing any growth — it just means this Make Your Own MFA plan I made isn’t quite going the way I expected. I need to examine that a little bit. In the meantime, I am going to actually post on one of my “scheduled” days (please note that we made a schedule that we both have blithely ignored for most of the month….whoops… and show you some of the drawing I have been doing.

I decided to take Mindy Lacefield’s Acrylic Girl class and learned a ton.

Here’s my first girl:

Don’t miss out on something great just because it could also be difficult. (Most of the time the quotes I use in my journals are there to call myself out….)

I then decided to try the steps in Procreate and created this young lady:

Painted in Procreate using Bardot Brush’s Magic Paper and an acrylic brush

One of the most interesting parts of Mindy’s class was the limited palette: we used a peachy colored paint for the skin (I used a Jane Davenport skin tone, but Mindy uses Folk Art Warm Bisque), Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold, Payne’s Grey, White, Red, and a Blue. Mindy also explained how to use these same colors to create a darker skin tone, but I haven’t tried it yet.

I’ve also spent some time just drawing faces with a pencil or with a pencil brush in Procreate:

I don’t know if this girl is finished or not:

But needless to say, I’m having fun and feeling pretty good about what I’ve been creating lately.

Even if it isn’t exactly the plan I had originally started with a few months ago….

Drawing lessons? What drawing lessons…

OK. I have not been keeping up with any of my planned lessons for drawing, history, or anything else. Instead, I’ve been making a LOT OF ART. Which…I cannot regret.

I’m currently holding myself to three daily challenges. (THREE??) I’m doing Feathruary — bird art every day. I’m doing Making Art Every Day — drawing in procreate based on prompts. And, I decided to do a 100 Day project — 100 Days of Rainbow Joy.

It’s a lot. Oh, plus I’m taking Wanderlust 2021, which involves a weekly lesson and I am bound and determined to keep up with it this year (after I did about 3 lessons last year and then never got back to it….)

And I work full time, although, last week, we only had 3 days of school, thank you snow storm. Actually, no thank you, it is C.O.L.D. now in Iowa. We’re talking the temperature on the thermometer is negative 17, not just the windchill.

That’s a lot of words to say: I haven’t done any more work in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain since the post I wrote two weeks ago.

But again: I’m not sorry, because I have been drawing. A LOT. I have made a TON of art in Procreate and some of that has been drawing animals. Starting with tracing them, but then moving to drawing them on my own.

I also made my first (but not my last) repeat pattern and I LOVED IT. I have already planned (in my head) an entire collection of fabric that goes with it. Now…to execute those plans…

I am supposed to be writing about my history studies again next Monday, so hopefully by then I will have done some more work on that. I have also looked at my stack of books I have been planning to read and think I’d better at least open one of them soon.

Art Skills

abstract in procreate

I have two things pinned to the top of my art practice/art skills list: drawing and learning procreate, which is also drawing. I am going to make a confession- I don’t enjoy drawing. There I said it!

However, this does not mean I am going to give up, like in previous years. I am going to acknowledge the fact that I do not derive much enjoyment from drawing and push through it. Why? Because in the end it will get me where I want to be and at some point I think that I actually will enjoy it.

To be quite honest, the end of January/beginning of February was very full and my drawing practice got pushed to the sidelines. Was a ready and willing to do that? Absolutely. I told Suzanne this very morning that I have been avoiding it like the plague. I need to dig into this a little bit more, but ultimately I feel it simply comes back to the aforementioned issue: I don’t enjoy it.

Abstract Is My Happy Place

What I do really love is abstract work, and anything that can be abstracted. So, that’s mostly what I have been doing, especially in Procreate. Even though that feels like play, I AM gaining functional understanding of the way Procreate works, experimenting with the tools available and appreciating how very fast you can create work. Also, I don’t have to feel guilty about ‘waste’- I just hit delete!

This piece ended up being turned into cover art for the new album ‘Immediacy’ by B. Aubrey Freeman (aka my husband)

One Last Thing

Before I wrap this up, I do have a minor complaint about the drawing workbook I’m working in. The method to start making ‘real’ drawings utilizes a viewfinder or picture plane:

There is a corresponding page in the workbook with a grid. After several (literally five) attempts at drawing to scale by transferring the image on the picture plane, I gave up. It just wasn’t right. I walked away, as I usually do and when I returned saw the problem instantly. The scale of the frame and the scale of my practice space are not the same! Aha! You can see where I drew the correct border on the practice sheet on the right. I’ll give it another go.

*here’s the link to the above album: https://b-aubreyfreeman.bandcamp.com/releases

Photos of above workbook are from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

Global prehistory – what has Suzanne learned so far

My draft title for this post was “Modern Humans are Assholes.” I finished the Global Prehistory unit and I swear that every single article included something about the original artwork being lost (or nearly lost) because modern humans messed it up. Unfortunately, that was my biggest takeaway from this unit. I’m also not really feeling too kindly towards my contemporary humans during this pandemic, so you’ll have to excuse my pessism.

I do think it’s funny to say “prehistory” because….if something is before “history”…..isn’t it also history??? But as you probably know, prehistory simply means the time before written records. This particular overview looks at art made between 30,000 and 500 BCE.

(As a reminder, I’m following the AP Art History track on Khan Academy. The content comes originally from smARThistory.org and I find it easier to link to the information on their site.)

Not only are modern humans are destructive, we can be tricked by fakes and fall victim to confirmation bias. And of course, racism rears its ugly head in the stories about what historians have decided must be true. I was glad that this section took a global view of prehistory, as opposed to focusing on ancient western art.

While people can (and will) speculate about what certain paintings or sculptures signify, it is impossible to know for sure what anything means. I find it fascinating what historians and archeologists CAN discern, based on what they know from other objects they have found.

While I enjoyed all of this unit, my favorite artwork was the Tlatilco Figurines from Central Mexico. These small ceramic figurines date from around 1200-400 B.C.E. Most of them depict women in everyday activities and include a lot of humor. They are small and quite intricate. My favorite is this one of a woman kissing a dog:

Tlatilco figurine of a woman kissing a dog
Original photo can be found here: https://flic.kr/p/rkqJqE

I highly recommend doing an image search for Tlatilco figurines to see more figurines. It has occurred to me that I should be making an art journal page with some of these figurines as inspiration. If I do, I will come back and add it!

The next unit in this course is titled Ancient Mediterranean: 3500 B.C.E.-300 C.E. I’ll be back in two weeks with another update on what I’m learning from the past. I have a suspicion I still won’t be feeling too kindly towards modern humans.

Reference: Dr. Rex Koontz, “Tlatilco Figurines,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed February 1, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/tlatilco-figurines/.

The Business

Bisignes, from the Old English meaning ‘care, anxiety, occupation (as in occupied with)’, is the root of ‘busyness’, and although the meaning has changed throughout time, the root meaning of anxiety still probably holds true for a large amount of artists today. We’ve probably all heard cliché things like artists aren’t good at business (or math) and we artists just accept that this is true because people say it is. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t really hold to those ideas, but I will say this- being a creative and running the business of being a creative is a lot to deal with.

Been There, Done That

As I have hinted at before, in a previous life I was a sculptor. Not only did I make art, have gallery representation and sell sculpture, I ran a metal fabrication business AND ran an Etsy shop (which is still live but unused). I am no stranger to running a business (neither is Suzanne for that matter!). However, it was exhausting and eventually led to total burnout, failing health and an existential crisis. Whew.

Shae in her metal studio circa 2017. Photo courtesy Sybille Peretti.

I am not really about to do that again, so the business of art I am talking about for this MFA program has more to do with learning how to make passive income via teaching and designing, utilize technology to improve my business opportunities, learn time management skills that work for me, and to put my energy towards teaching and sharing my knowledge. I want to create an art centered life that fills my cup instead of draining it.

Many things on my list will be concurrent skills, i.e., when I learn how to film and edit tutorials, I am one step closer to having an eventual way to make passive income from those tutorials (theoretically). Slowly but surely, I’m working my way through a few Skillshare classes that deal with video editing, and of course Creativebug has a some great classes: one by Lisa Congdon, Building a Creative Brand; another by Lisa Solomon appropriately titled ‘So You Want to Be a Professional Artist?’.

Art + Healing

There is one more piece to this puzzle for me. After I quit metal work, I had a lot of healing to do. In the process, as happens to a lot of people, I uncovered my gift for healing. I did things that had been close to my heart for decades and had never been realized: I became a certified herbalist, I deepened my astrology and esoteric studies, and became a Reiki master teacher. I explored all manner of healing modalities and really dug into mind-body connections, studied breathwork and movement therapies (to deal with my musculoskeletal issues). This is the work I do now, and I love it, but the fact of the matter is, I was born an artist, I will always BE an artist. Art journaling filled the void that was there after quitting metal work, and my real business is figuring out how to merge my artistic and healing skills and what that will look like in the coming years.

Overcoming My Drawing Resistance

I drew this upside down on the page — following a line drawing I had created on my iPad by tracing a photo of myself.

We made up a posting schedule last week and I promptly ignored it as soon as I shared it with Shae. She has gotten us back on track with her art history post yesterday, and now it’s my turn to talk about my basic art skills progress today.

Drawing

When your brain has determined that you cannot do something, it’s hard to convince it to even try. And the lengths to which I go to avoid my drawing lessons are pretty impressive. I rarely clean, but suddenly, I need to clean my desk completely before I can properly get to work. And maybe I need to vacuum out the cracks in the hardwood floor.

And some of my resistance is in direct opposition to evidence to the contrary — I’m really proud of the picture above. So why do I continue to tell myself I can’t draw??

I am also good at making up excuses, such as my trouble with depth perception. I can’t always judge distances very accurately in real life. (Which is probably why I have bruises on my shins and trip over dust). Several of the drawings you see below were done with the original and my copy upside down. The exercise is all about the linework rather than knowing what you are drawing. Even though they look “fine” — I can totally see where I went off the rails with the lengths of my lines, which is clearly related to my depth perception issues, so therefore I should just abandon any hope of accurately drawing things…….

HOWEVER: here I am, pushing back against that resistance, reporting on my drawing homework from the last few weeks and recommitting to both the process and to making progress.

The top left picture is a pure blind contour picture — I was looking at the lines of my left hand, drawing blind with my right hand with a rainbow pencil. Because regular pencils are boring. The other three pictures are the ones I copied from images in the book, but upside down. The bottom three pictures are my pre-instruction drawings — a drawing of myself, looking in a mirror, my hand (trust me, my pinky finger is NOT broken), and a corner of my home.

Digital Art

On a related note, I have completed a piece of art in Procreate every day this month (so far). I am learning so much about Procreate itself, as well as about drawing (see, I recognize the absurdity of my brain saying I can’t draw, but yet, I have spent tons of time DRAWING……….SIGH).

I’m following along with a challenge called Making Art Every Day by Lisa Bardot. She provides prompts and tutorials and all kinds of inspiration every day. The first month has all been food related. I’ve been trying different styles and it’s hard to pick favorites!

You can see all of my digital artwork on Instagram: Suzanne’s Digital Art.

Art History, Reconstructed

As Suzanne mentioned in her art history post, a lot of people get turned off when they hear the words Art History. I mean, it does conjure up images of survey classes where there are so many names and dates and slides it leaves you crossed eyed. I remember those classes and the hideous amount of dates you need to memorize- if you don’t REALLY LOVE art history it is not that fun.

Back story: I have a minor in Art History and have slept sat through many, many slide lectures. But, I will say this: once you get past intro level surveys, it does get more interesting. Specialist and topic specific classes are infinitely more inspiring. I had a focus on Islamic art and architecture, pre-Christian art and once took an entire class on Iznik pottery of the Ottoman Empire- riveting!

I feel fortunate in my fundamental art history education because it allowed me to understand huge chunks of world history at the same time. However, there are huge gaps in my art history knowledge simply because it is such a vast subject. Also, some subjects were either not offered, not widely talked about or just outright ignored in the field. This is where I’m headed.

The Obvious Choice

Women in the arts have always been sorely underrepresented, but I am going one further. There are quite a few woman who were extremely talented in their own right, yet lived in the shadow of their famous male husbands and partners. Lee Krasner and Frida Khalo are two well known examples, and I’m going to dig into that a bit more. It also ties in with a Big Idea I’ve had for quite a few years (decades really), but I’ll save that for another day. Here’s my short list so far:

  • Elizabeth Siddall
  • Gabriele Münter
  • Margaret Keane
  • Lee Miller
  • Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
  • Judith Leyster
  • Jo Hopper
  • Elaine de Kooning
  • Tirzah Garwood
  • Elizabeth Catlett
  • Gwen Knight

And some seriously overlooked women that really should be in the Renaissance, Late Classical, Art Deco/Nouveau and Romantic canons:

  • Artemisia Gentileschi
  • Hannah Höch
  • Sofonisba Anguissola
  • Tamara de Lempicka
  • Sonia Delaunay
  • Margaret & Frances Macdonald
  • Elisabeth Sonrel

I’ll also be exploring some influential women in applied arts fields, like Gunta Stöltz who modernized weaving at the Bauhaus school’s weaving workshop. You know, real specific niche art history you can get lost in- my favorite!

I’m Still A Sculptor At Heart

Speaking of niche, next month is Black History Month and I’m going to share some things that I’ve already been researching- black women sculptors of the Harlem Renaissance. I’ll also talk about one of the most influential metal sculptors on my younger self, Mel Edwards.

Art History One-Oh-One

One of the ways in which I (Suzanne) feel disadvantaged as an artist is not having a solid grounding in art history and so part of my Make Your Own MFA program includes art history, from the prehistoric to the modern and contemporary. I can already hear some of you groaning as you remember bad art history classes, wondering why someone would subject themselves to something like this.

image of a blurred dictionary page with the text "art history 101" in script on it

Why

Well, for one thing, I’m stubborn, and I decided I needed to know this, so I’m going to do it. More seriously, though, I think it’s important to know the language, so to speak, and to have a grounding in where the things I’m working on have come from. I know I’m not making art out of thin air, everything I do is influenced by something else.

I also just really like learning things.

Guidelines

I’ve got some loose guidelines in mind as I approach my study of art history:

  • Broad overview of everything, from prehistoric times to contemporary
  • Learn about women (or those who identify as such) and not just the white men
  • Diversity: not just western art, and not just from a western perspective
  • I don’t have to be able to pass anexam, I just need to have been exposed to the ideas and art
  • If I find something really interesting, I will follow the idea to wherever it leads me
  • If I’m really really bored, I can move on to whatever is next

SmARThistory

As you can imagine, there are an infinite number of resources available online. I had decided to follow the art history curriculum from Smarthistory.org, when I discovered that Khan Academy had taken the Smarthistory curriculum and packaged it into a nicer format. So that’s what I’m using. I picked the AP Art History course, just because it made me feel fancy to do an AP class. Even though I’m nearly 50, and not in high school. Or a freshman in college.

I am finally through the first section — aptly called “Getting Started. ” It is an overview of terminology for both artmaking and art history. There’s also a section with an introduction to the 5 main religions of the world, presumably because a lot of the work that will be studied is going to be religious. Yay.

Hating Art History

One of the videos in the beginning is by Sarah Urist Green, in which she talks about why people hate art history. In her opinion, art history is complex and interesting, but in order to teach it, we end up simplifying it and take out all of the cool stuff. And most people give up before they get to the interesting bits or are disillusioned when they find out how much simplification they were fed. Or don’t want to believe the actual story because it doesn’t fit with the fantasy in their head. (Gee, sounds like regular not-art history, too…..)

The video is actually on YouTube, too, if you’d like to watch:

I am hopeful that the resources that are available through Khan Academy and Smarthistory.org as well as the independent work that I’m sure I’ll do as I try to follow up on the things that I find fascinating will help me find the cool stuff. I’ll try to share the most interesting bits here and I’m sure that the things I’m learning will make their way in to my own art practice.

Enjoying Art History

I’ll be honest, I started to get a bit bogged down in the section about the major world religions, but now that I’m ready to move on, I’m energized again. I hope I can keep that energy up and enjoy my trip through art history!

Have you ever taken an art history class? What historical periods interest you the most? Let me know in a comment or on Instagram if that’s where you came from!

Learning to Draw (again)

I came to art a bit late in my undergraduate career. After three years in the astrophysics department, I changed my major to art (a story for another day perhaps). Miraculously I had credits to fill most of my art degree requirements, so I escaped a lot of fundamental training tortures like drawing and color theory. Besides, I was a sculpture major, I didn’t care about drawing. In fact, I was quite resentful of people (teachers) telling me I had to keep a sketchbook and draw my sculptures. It seemed like an unnecessary step; I could easily translate what was in my head directly into three dimensions. Why would I take on the laborious task of drawing it first?

I did end up taking one intro level drawing class taught by a grad student named Keith Love. He said one thing that has stuck with me through the years: your brain interferes with the communication between your eyes and your hand. In other words, your brain tries to draw what it thinks it sees, and not what it actually sees. And he was right. It turns out that, specifically, the left side of your brain interferes with your ability to draw and it really has no idea how to do the job.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Suzanne and I are both starting our MFA program with drawing since it seems to be the thing we’re both the most resistant to. Serendipitously, I was recently gifted Betty Edward’s book/workbook, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. As it turns out, Suzanne had a languishing edition of the book as well. I’ve been so captivated by the content on hand/hemisphere dominance, cultural right hand prejudice, neuroscience and brain plasticity that I have been following some rabbit trails on that and not getting much drawing done. Ahem.

Right or Left Handed?

I have always been suspicious that I am actually left handed and was switched as a child in school. I am just old enough for that to have still been a practice in elementary school, and I do have some telling clues, like being able to draw fairly well with my left hand (almost better in some cases). It is also quite possible that I am what is referred to as cross-dominant. I have preferred tasks for each hand and have a fair amount of ambidextrous abilities. I am left eye dominate too! Multiple right brain/left brain tests I’ve done come out with equal dominance between them, furthering my cross dominance theory. Apparently this is more common in women, and can also lead to left-right confusion, as in, turn left- no- turn right (my husband will attest to this, and in fact he did).

If you want to take a fun test that determines brain hemisphere dominance go here: https://www.mentalup.co/blog/right-brain-left-brain-test. Before you get excited though, I must warn you that this apparently has no bearing on learning how to draw. We are all equally teachable!

I’ve done my pre-instruction drawings which I am assured will be helpful in gauging progress. I won’t lie, it was not a comfortable thing to do.

I am finally moving on to starting the training exercises, and for once I think I am actually excited to learn how to draw.