My Story of Art

I decided to take Elkins up on his challenge, to create a map of my own story of art, in other words a history of art that is relevant and personal to me.  I liked the simplicity of the maps that Elkins had shown in his book, and the fact that they had a pictorial element, rather than just being diagrammatic. I wanted to create a map that was not only an accurate representation of how I view my own story of art, but also one that had an aesthetic quality to it. The design of the map needed to reflect my own work, which is slanted towards natural history, ecology and the environment. I had two ideas; firstly to make a tree because:

  • I live in the Big Tree County and I encounter many varieties of beautiful trees on a daily basis
  • trees symbolise ecology and the environment and they have inspired my work on countless occasions
  • trees can also symbolise growth, the growth of my knowledge or practice, from the roots up to the tree tops, with many branches which connect and then veer off into twigs

secondly, I thought of an octopus because;

  • I have always had a love and fascination for these creatures and other cephalopods
  • I love the sea and have concerns over its pollution levels
  • The octopus is a shape shifter, it can change its shape and appearance to suit certain situations, so it could be used as a metaphor for the changing shape of art history
  • The octopus has illustrative potential (like the tree) because of its head/body with tentacles attached, and smaller suction cups within the tentacles, where informations, artists name etc might be featured.

After pondering my choices, I decided that I would go for a tree on this occasion, as it would probably be a bit easier to use for mapping purposes due to shape and height. I started off at the roots of art history because I felt that I wanted to pay homage to the prehistoric cave painters and artists of the ancient civilisations. I did not include all the ancient civilisations, the 3 main ones: Egyptian, Greek and Roman were written in bold, with Norse, Celtic and Pictish also featuring, as I have an interest in Pagan Mythology, Druids etc. Mythology and Religion are mentioned above, as the ancient civilisations worshipped some weird and wonderful “Gods”, but religion also represents the Christian art which featured widely in Western Pre-Modern Art.  From Pre-Modern Art, I climbed up the tree to Modern Art and felt that I should mention Clement Greenburg .I then marked in the Neo-Avant-Garde, who can also be considered Modernist, although they don’t always fit the definition which Greenburg considered of being pure to one medium.

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Further up the tree we meet Post-Modernism and Globalisation. I could have branched out from any of these previous movements, and did attempt to do so from Modern Art,leading to Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, post-Impressionism etc. I felt, however, that this looked a bit ugly aesthetically, and although all ” isms” were important in shaping art history, they don’t specifically relate to my work, so I kept them hidden under the mega periods of Pre-ModernModern and Post-Modern Art.

The first major branches I added to the tree were the socio-political impacts which influence much of the contemporary art today. To the left, I branched off with race, gender, sexuality, politics (with war branching off it)and consumerism. To the right, I branched off to Science and Environmental Art, which is relevant to my own interests and practice.From here I mapped smaller branches with categories of Bio Art, Kinetics and Robotics and Eco Art, mentioning some of the artists I can remember who work in these fields, namely Laura Gurton, Eduardo Kac and Liz Douglas (Bio Art), Michelle Lougee, Aurora Robson and Curious Collaboration (Eco Art).

In the centre of the tree branches I placed MY ART, with the idea of looking at media which I use and also artists who I recall who work in these various media. Above Science and Environmental art, I added the branch of LAND ART, as this is probably something which I will endeavour to try, as a site specific installation in a local wooded area.  Mentioned here were “veterans” of Land art : Dennis Oppenheim and Richard Long, with also more contemporary artists Charles Jencks (whose work I saw at Jupiter Artland),Cornelia Konrads, husband and wife team Martin Hill and Philippa Jonesand last but certainly not least, Andy Goldsworthy.

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Above LAND ART I added another major branch – INSTALLATION. Here I reeled off the names of some of (but not all!) my favourite installation artists:

  • Katja Loher
  • Mark Dion
  • Peter Gentenaar
  • Ernesto Neto  
  • Yayoi Kusama

In the centre of the trunk I wrote 3D & SCULPTURE, an area which I am also very interested in. Most of the artists which I included here could be classed asINSTALLATION OR 3D & SCULPTURE, so I felt that they had been well positioned on the map. These artists were;

  • Abraham Cruzvillegas
  • Anthony Gormley
  • Mark Quinn
  • David Kefford
  • Cedric le Borgne
  • Kaori Umeda

Now I was half way around the tree canopy, and I still had quite a few media to fit in. I  placed PRINTMAKING at -45degrees as it is one of my most regular media within my work. I listed a diverse range of sub-branches under PRINTMAKING :

  • Japanese Woodcuts
  • Thomas Bewick
  • Kaori Maki
  • Clare Nash
  • Sister Corita Kent (whose work I saw recently at the DCA)
  • Rauschenburg, and
  • Warhol

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I could have probably devoted a whole tree to printmaking techniques, historical developments and other printmakers who I know of or who inspire me, but maybe thats a task for another day?!

Above PRINTMAKING I managed to squash PAINTING and above that DRAWING. Around drawing I named:

  • Russell Crotty
  • Elizabeth Couloigner ( I really love the drawings in her handmade artists books)
  • Jennifer Pastor, and
  • Ugo Rondinone

The latter two work their drawings into INSTALLATION or SCULPTURE, so again these two were placed between two categories which fit their description (almost!).

There was not a lot of room adjacent to PAINTING, which is actually such a huge area, and a medium which I do enjoy (but only when painting in abstract). I added Robert Rymanbecause I’m very fond of his white paintings and his minimalism and “whiteness” has inspired a great deal of my recent work. I had space for one other in between PAINTINGand PRINTMAKING, and, glancing up at the living room wall I saw my answer…Vladimir Tretchikoff, an icon of kitsch and a regular on grandmothers’ walls  in decades past. I have a few of his original prints.. Miss Wong, Chinese Girl and Balinese Girl, taking pride of place with some very eclectic accessories in my small living room. Why? Well, because I find a certain comfort in his work, his ladies look very serene and content, they suit my colour scheme and fit in well with the retro feel to the room. And I love the nostalgia that goes with them.

Underneath PRINTMAKING, I fitted i the final branch of PHOTOGRAPHY & DIGITAL ART, with VIDEO heading towards MY ART . I didn’t really have any room to fit in notable artists, photographers or filmmakers, although I probably would have put Werner Herzog, Cindy Sherman in there given a few inches more, also a Scottish artist Ruth Ewan who makes witty but often disturbing photomontages. It was important for me to includeAUGMENTED REALITY on my map, and the Internet; with regards to the latter, I don’t know how I ever managed without it! Augmented Reality is a fairly recent technological advancement which I am keen to try to incorporate into my work at some stage.

So here ends my map of my Story of Art. I hope you have enjoyed it. I’m guessing that not all the artists I have mentioned will be known to you, but they are mostly (contemporary) artists who I find very inspiring, and I would recommend anyone to take a few minutes to look them up.

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I’m actually quite pleased with what I have achieved here…I think that my goal to produce an aesthetically pleasing map has worked, and I think anyone would recognise that it is a tree, which will hopefully give them the idea at a quick glance that my work is based on natural history. I also feel happy with the content, which I suppose was the main reason to the exercise. I think I managed to include all the artists who I feel are important to me at the moment, but I’m sure by next week there will be a few more to add to the list….

Now there’s a thought…maybe i should have written the names on paper leaves, which can be stuck on and removed when I feel the need. Those out of favour, could be stuck down at the base of the tree, as if they’ve fallen from grace!

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