Art History – An Introduction

I minored in Art in college. The emphasis was photography, but of course my courseload included painting, drawing, and art history. Art history was my least favorite. I don’t remember if I just disliked the teacher, or the dissemination of information was just too dry, but I don’t remember a single thing I was taught in that class. Too much history, not enough art.

Lately, however, I’ve been engaging in self-education, reading, shall we say, less traditional art history books. I’m learning tidbits about Picasso, Seurat, Matisse, Rodin, Leonardo (don’t call him da Vinci), and many more, but my education hasn’t been limited to the visual arts. I’ve also learned some things about Clara Bow, Maria Callas, Johnny Cash, and Arthur Miller, to name a few.

For instance, when Johnny Cash was 12, his beloved older brother, Jack, 14, worked at the high school agriculture shop cutting timber to help support the family of nine. One morning in May, 1944, both mama Cash and J.R. (Johnny’s birth name) had a bad feeling about Jack going to work. They asked him to stay behind, go fishing with J.R. (the lay-about), anything but go to work. But Jack was determined to do his part to feed the family, so off he went. Unfortunately, that day Jack lost his balance while cutting a board and fell onto a giant head saw, which nearly cut him in half.  He suffered for a few days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries. J.R. never got over the guilt, which was not helped by the fact that their father, Ray, never missed an opportunity to tell J.R. that it was a shame his favorite son, the hardworking Jack, died, instead of the good-for-nothing son that Ray saw J.R. as.

So was born in the man in black.

Cash grave

Arthur Miller was an interesting story, too.  He grew up in a wealthy New York family, the son of Isadore, the owner of a successful womens’ clothing store in the Garment district, and the family wanted for nothing. Until Black Thursday, October 24, 1929. Unfortunately, Isadore invested nearly all of his wealth in the stock market, and the family lost everything. The store had to close, putting 800 people out of work, and the family had to move from their luxury apartment overlooking the north end of Central Park to a tiny home in Gravesend, Brooklyn, where Arthur shared a small room with his snoring grandfather. Arthur watched as his mother had to pawn off her furs and jewelry, mourning the loss of her social standing, and he grew to deeply resent his father, whom he believed was responsible for the mess his family was in. So, Isadore Miller, a salesman, who put all his faith in the stock market, ended up a disappointment to his wife and children.  The seeds of Death of a Salesman, sown.

Perhaps everyone already knows these things about Cash and Miller. Maybe I’m just now joining the party, but these are things I find interesting. As someone who is always trying to cultivate my creative leanings, I find it inspiring to learn about the things that informed the creative spirits of others.  I’ve noticed that on the days I read these stories, I’m more inclined to paint, and now I’m inclined to share some of these stories with an audience.

So stay tuned.

Up next, Jan van Eyck. (who?)

Footnote: Where do I get my information?  The Secret Lives of Great Artists, by Elizabeth Lunday, Tortured Artists, From Picasso and Monroe to Warhol and Winehouse, the Twisted Secretes of the World’s Most Creative Minds, by Christopher Zara, and Google (often leading to Wikipedia), naturally.

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