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STORIES OF ART

jelkins

“Mind-map” exercise I did ala James Elkins’ ‘Stories of Art’ (which, by the way is an absolutely fantastic and fun read – highly recommended!). This maze is the conceptualisation of my trajectory learning about and encountering art from kindergarten through Master degree. More than just a mapping of histories and the shaping of my particular world view, the maze highlighted to me the many paths still to be explored and really emphasizes how much there is to be known about other cultures and perspectives. No matter how educated you are, there is always more to discover, ways of seeing and ways of knowing. Thought it turned out pretty rad.

My story of art starts with the earliest memory I have of it – a copy of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ hanging in my grandfather’s study. This image is particularly memorable to me due to its prominence in Norwegian culture and education. As far as I can recall, art history started in history class, where the heroes of Norwegian culture played a significant role, even as far back as in kindergarten. The trail takes many winding turns in my mind, yet I suppose it is somewhat unconventional since it starts with a decidedly Norwegian point of view. Nevertheless, the survey books of Gardner and Gombrich make their appearance very early on, from which the ‘standard’ story unfolds. Greece, Italy, France and the Golden Age of Netherlandish art is peppered with mentions of the greats before and after the renaissance and shortly after, the greats before and after modernism. Prehistoric and non-European art barely makes a dent in the vastness of the academic material provided in the early days of schooling. Even so, fascination leads to a respectable amount of familiarity with the Egyptians, Assyrians and the mysteries that lie in the past. Asian art snuck into my mind by way of childhood tales of hanuman (The Ramakien) and visits home to Thailand (hence its placement directly next to ‘identity’), yet it was never once mentioned during any subsequent years of schooling. The strive for realism and skilfulness in the capturing of nature on canvas or sculpture (as championed by Vasari) was in my mind then the only ‘great’ art, which today seems a rather sad sentiment.

The abstract and the avant-garde was, until Kandinsky, as foreign a territory to me as African and Indian art. It wasn’t until I encountered the texts of modernist critics such as Greenberg, the many manifestos of the post-war period and finally the very impactful texts by Bourdieu and Foucault that I began to experience art beyond the ‘classics’. Kandinsky’s manifesto on the Spiritual in Art opened my eyes for the conceptual, non-objective and abstract (from which the rest of my ‘mind-eye-maze-map’ quickly evolved), whilst Bourdieu and Foucault introduced me to concepts of power, the field, agency – words that would come to shape my view of visual culture. The notion of the transformative power of art and its use as capital was fascinating, and led me to step into the crack made by anthropology into the world of indigeneity. Reflecting back on the process of learning about Aboriginal art (Australian and otherwise), I found that even armed with these concepts it was and still is hard to fit these new pieces of the puzzle into a structure (the maze) that had already been built in my mind. This visualisation is not nearly finished nor complete, however I believe it shows that my perception, though structurally anchored to years of European schooling, can be re-configurated, filled in and expanded. I see myself still in the middle, looking out with the hopes that the empty spaces can be filled, that new spaces will be made, and that the art which once seemed distant and alien might be one day be fully discovered.

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