Art History Is Not Linear

Years ago I taught illustration to high school graduates at an art institute. As I made references to artists, paintings and styles of the past, I was usually met with blank stares. It finally dawned on me that these young people, who aspired to be professional artists, knew virtually nothing of art history. How could that be!? Has our way of teaching history become so dry and date-heavy that even art students shy from picking up books on art history? The answer is, apparently — yes.

My class evolved into a Liberal Arts course as I continually explained that, while we tend to think of history in a timeline, all art is contemporaneous. It might still be true that a lot of young artists look to whatever is current for inspiration and direction, but the totality of art is a never-ending circle of inspiration.

Pompeian frieze, c. A. D. 79   |   Picasso plate, 1956, Christie's

Alchemy symbol, Middle Ages   |   Joan Miro, 1960

Etruscan figures, c. 750 B. C.   |   Alberto Giacometti, c. 1960,
Art Nouveau initials, c. 1910   |   Fillmore poster, 1967

Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500   |   Salvador Dali, 1931

York Minster stained glass, c. 1150   |   Georges Rouault, 1937

Marcantonio Raimondi, 1520   |   Edouard Manet, 1863

Eskimo seal-hunting stool, 1850s*   |   Magis Gallery coffee table, 2011
* The photograph of the Eskimo stool is from Crossroads of Siberia and Alaska, 
by William W. Fitzhugh and Aron Crowell.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1509   |   Buckminster Fuller, 1967*
* The photograph of Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphere
is by Ryan Mallard

Lascaux cave painting, c 15,000-10,000 B.C.   |   Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1837

Antoni Gaudi, chimneys of Casa Mila, 1912  |  Jonathan Adler ceramics, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci, 1499   |   M. C. Escher, 1969
Amish quilt, 1885 (University of Nebraska)   |   Victor Vasarely, Alom, 1967

Highboy by Christopher Townsend, 1740s   |   AT&T Building by Philip Johnson, 1984

Piet Mondrian, 1921   |   Eames House, 1949

Detail of a painting by Piero di Cosimo, c. 1495   |   Olivetti poster by Milton Glaser, 1968

Greek amphora, 535-530 B.C.   |   Wedgewood pottery, 1792

Bookbinding from the library of Louis XIII, before 1643   |   Louis Vuitton "Blois" pattern

Antoni Gaudi's Casa Mila, 1905 - 1910   |   Jeanne Gang's Aqua Building, 2009

Joseph Pickett, c. 1918   |   Charles Wysocki, c.1970
Charles Wysocki considered himself neither a primitive nor a naive painter (I would call his charming style "pseudo-naive."). Wysocki said that he was influenced in part by the work of the primitive painter, Joseph Pickett, though only a handful of Pickett's works exist.

Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron, between 1864 and 1875   |   Photo by Anne Geddes

Napoleon by Ingres, 1806   |  Ice T by Kehinde Wiley, 2005

Matthew Boulton, early 1770s   |   The Yusupov Egg, Peter Carl Fabergé, 1907
Matthew Boulton, the British industrialist and partner of James Watt, is credited with modernizing the British Mint. For a period of time he produced ormolu and marble urns to satisfy a great demand for them in Britain. When the demand suddenly ceased, Boulton was left with a large inventory of such urns, which Catherine II of Russia was happy to buy up. Doubtlessly, Fabergé was familiar with these pieces.

Chateau Rastignac, 1789-1817   |   The White House, 1824
detail of a Flemish tapestry, c. 1500  |  detail of William Morris tapestry, 1894
detail of Russian woodcut, early 1700s  |  detail of Ivan Bllibin illustration, 1907
Ivan Bilibin in some ways mirrored William Morris. He researched Russian art from the past and consciously gave it a fresh reinterpretation.

Maison Carrée, Nîmes. France, 20 B.C.  |  Jefferson's model for the Virgina Capitol, c. 1787
Thomas Jefferson visited the Maison Carrée in 1787 and judged it to be the most perfect of extant buildings of antiquity. Because he remained in France while the capitol was built, and not trusting the expertise of American builders, Jefferson had this exact model made and sent to the Richmond, Virginia site.

Alfred Leete, 1914  |  James Montgomery Flagg, 1916-17

English fabric design, 1792  |  French fabric design, 1923
Both fabrics are from the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Some of the museum's Art Deco fabric patterns can be viewed here.

Norman Rockwell cover art, 1934  |  Raleigh cigarette ad from the early 1970s
Norman Rockwell painted 317 covers for The Saturday Evening Post.