On art history's hope for humanity
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I feel compelled to write posts about art. Since I am no longer at a museum, and because of these crazy and scary times—we just hit that unfathomable milestone of 100K dead—I wanted to get some stuff down for the record. A blog seem like a good method to share some thoughts.
This pandemic has brought into the light so many cracks in our society. How we come through the other side remains to be seen. There are many things that I hope will change, and many institutions that I hope will survive. I think writing about art takes me away to somewhere beautiful, thoughtful, hopeful. It all takes me back to why I was drawn to art history in the first place. It is a truth that understanding history is critical for humankind’s survival; it’s crucial to understand where we’ve been in order to move forward with hindsight's wisdom. When I was in school, history classes consisted of a straight-up recounting of politics, governments, and wars. While important, those things felt pretty far away, and I confess to feeling a combination of boredom and depression. (Acknowledging privilege here.) It always felt like there had to be more. More information about hopeful aspects of human life. More information about society and how culture is key and revelatory. More about things that closely impact our individual and personal lives.
In art history I found a recounting of human history through the perspective of art and culture. Rather than the contentious and divisive world of politics and warfare, culture and art offer hopeful, uplifting perspectives and still convey our history. Aha! And yet, throughout thirty years in the art business, I periodically had a crisis of faith. It sometimes seemed like art was an unnecessary and frivolous aspect of society, the proverbial icing on the cake. Nice to have, but not essential. But I have come to believe that art is a critical component in our lives. (Let’s not forget to mention the economics of this robust sector. It may not be the best paying of careers, but there are many, many people engaged in this important work.)
Further, I believe that creativity is the best part of being human. I believe that artists are uniquely suited to create art that not only pleases the eye but also challenges the mind. It is a higher-order type of thinking and is unique to humans. It would be sad indeed if we were to squander this amazing ability, but embracing it fully gives me hope for our future. The possibilities for impacting lives are endless. For me, it is an honor to help people understand art a bit better. And I hope that my passion for it is infectious.
Image: Ann Shafer giving a talk to the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society of the Baltimore Museum of Art in March 2013. Photo credit: Ben Levy
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.