Art In History Art Blog
Coming from a background in Art History, I have a number of readymade ways to beat myself over the head about my painting. One is the concept that to be given serious respect a work should be "significant". By this the art historian means that it advances the march of style through its innovations, or expresses its time with particular clarity and depth. It is the work of a leader, not a follower.
A few years ago Amherst college, my Alma Mater, had a show of art by alumni for which I was not approached. I have no idea if my name ever surfaced at all, or how selection was done, but I think it is perfectly likely that my work would not be considered "significant" enough to merit inclusion. In general, my work appeals much more to fellow artists, and even gallery owners, than to academics.
A corresponding pejorative term much used by academics is "derivative": if a work is "derivative" it can be dismissed without much consideration. Since all work is to some degree derivative (i.e., based on the work of earlier artists) what the phrase means, I suppose, is "too derivative", not trying hard enough to break away. This is a built in bias for Art Historians, who value the invention, the seminal idea, more than quality out of context. This is one reason I prefer the opinions of Connoisseurs, who appreciate the intrinsic stenglth and beauty of a work which is of no particular "significance".
I am very aware that my own work is not "significant", that it is derived from a 19th century naturalistic tradition, and that it is not a particularly good reflection of its own time. Every once in a while i think i should consciously direct my painting efforts into a more ambitious path: to find a new voice or to express something about our time. But it never lasts. For good or ill what I paint comes from a place within me which I don't really control and which gives me only limited choice. No I just have to get the art historian within me to shut up.