33 Why It Matters

Identify and explain the periods of art history; identify and discuss period artworks


We now embark on studying art in historical context. Consider this statement by James W. Loewen about the importance of studying American history:

Even when an event seems to be new, the causes of the acts and feelings are deeply embedded in the past. Thus, to understand an event—an election, an act of terror, a policy decision about the environment, whatever—we must start in the past (11).

In this sense, artwork can be taken to resemble a kind of event. To develop a deep understanding of art, we must consider it within the trajectory of history and within the most basic contexts—time and place. How is an artwork from one period of history an affirmation, rejection, or some more nuanced continuation of what came before it? Watch this video of a posthumous installation of a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Candies (Portrait of Ross in L.A.):

At the end of this course we will see how this art installation is not only emblematic of a specific time and place, but it is also part of the continuum of art history. Consider these questions as you work through this section: How do artworks build on what came before them? How and why did Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades” represent a kind of seismic shift in the world of art? Can they be considered as “events” that had a profound impact on what kinds of things are considered art today? How is this installation by Gonzalez-Torres a product of the time in which it was created?

Works Cited

Loewen, James. Teaching What Really Happened. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 2010. Print.


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