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The next time you have in mind to lose your mind, try delving into what I call art "isms" of the 20th century. Most people can handle the 19th century pretty well. You have only to cope with Classicism, Romanticism, Academicism, Realism, Impressionism, and Post Impressionism to pretty well cover all the bases. But in the 20th century the list explodes to mind-boggling proportions. Start with Fauvism, which led to Expressionism, then delve into each European country's brand of Expressionism. Move on to Cubism (Analytic and Synthetic), from there to Futurism, then to Suprematism, Orphism, Vorticism, Dadaism, Neo Plasticism (head starting to spin yet?), Purism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Super Realism, Neo-Realism, Nouveau Realisme, Tachism, Modernism and Post Modernism

Add to these those styles or movements that don't readily fit into any of the above, such as Pop Art, Op Art, Concrete Art (nothing to do with cement, by the way), Art Informel, Action Painting, Kinetic Art (they're not the same thing), Conceptual Art, Performance Art, Body Art, Arte Povera, Environmental Art, Transavanguardia, Urban Graffiti, Electronic Art, Computer Art, and finally (deep breath), Virtual Art. Is it any wonder art historians are such a rare breed? And those are only the ones we associate with Western art. Anyone want to probe the mysteries of the orient, or the occident (as in Pre-Columbian), or perhaps the art of the Pacific Islanders?

The point in all this? First, don't ever get the idea you know half of what there is to know about what we commonly call art appreciation. It's an infinitely deep, bottomless pit of eternal superficialities, technical complexities, and unending heresies. Second, art history is almost as bad, a little more structured, a little more logical perhaps, but peppered with names and dates, titles and trivia played out against the social/political history that runs parallel with it. There is little hope of understanding one without also having a firm grip on the other. And third, don't think for a moment you can be a great (or even good) artist without knowing some of this stuff. The most basic human question is, "Who am I and where did I come from?" Every artist must ask himself or herself that question and more importantly, find some kind of adequate answer. To do that, go back to the top and start reading again, looking up each term as you go, and this time, try not to let your eyes glaze over.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
31 May 1999


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