Today’s disgustingly early 9am start signalled the start of of the spring term for the History of Art students, the new timetable bringing in much frustration and rushing across campus. This afternoons lecture, with the ever lovely Dr. Simon Richards was a gentle easing in to the new module, Introduction to the History of Art II.
Despite how informative and interesting the lecture was, I felt, not for the first time, just how vehemently western-centric Art History as a subject really is. Great artists like Ando Hiroshige and Toyohara Kunichika were referenced only in passing as an influence on a fairly minor Van Gogh portrait. Last term, we spent weeks labouring through countless Italian artists only to spend a quick half hour on the Art the entire world that isn’t western Europe had to offer.
Dr. Richards certainly isn’t to blame, the climate of exclusion within Art History simply is the nature of the beast. Yet I think, personally, that we, as the next generation of Art Historians owe it to ourselves and to the subject to overcome this ingrained behaviour of treating non-white art as ‘exotic’ or ‘novel’. The traditional tribal masks of African Tribes People deserve recognition in their own right, not as a footnote when talking about Picasso’s influences. The bronze sculptures of the Middle-East are not relics of a barbaric, unenlightened society. The gold Buddahs of the Far East are not just tourist attractions.
Those of you who already, or intend to study Art History surely believe that we can do better than perpetuating the harmful attitudes of invalidation, instutionalised colonialism and the erasure of the art of people of colour in the subject that we love so much.
If you’d like to read more about apropriation in the art world, I would seriously recommend Primitivism and Modern Art by Colin Rhodes. This book really dropped some knowledge on me and changed the way I looked at Modern Art.