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Monday Mood: The Art History System Has Failed Me... Again (Russian Painting)

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Ivan Kramskoi

Lately I’ve been doing extremely deep dives into painting history, trying to uncover new things that interest me and I have to report, yet again, that the art history system failed me. I’ve recently discovered Russian painting and I’m quite upset that I didn’t know about some of these artists sooner. Artists like Ilya Repin, Karl Bryulov, Ivan Kramskoi, and so many more; truly masterful painters who are virtually unmentioned in the grand scheme of art history.

Now, I admit that my path in art history starts with classical European work and then projects pretty directly into American work. But it’s not like I’m discovering totally different styles of painting, the example I made when discussing this was not knowing about Chinese painting due to only studying European painting, these Russian artists were working in the same popular styles that European painters were. We’ve all stumbled upon Kandinsky at one point or another because he was working in similar abstract styles as European and American painters, but why do we not hear about the entire era of Russian Realists that engaged the lower class with art and gave back? Is it a specialized form of study? Because it shouldn’t be.

The Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Bryullov

I think in most subjects we’re going to run into a very European into American timeline and any deviation has to be made very deliberately. But things like this are criminal, my views on realism and the talent and meaning behind these paintings has totally changed for the better because of these Russian painters. Again, it’s not like these are movements or styles that I’ve avoided or am finding new interest, I’ve been a fan of Realism since high school and no teacher has once mentioned to me the beauty of Russian realism. I’ve called shenanigans on the teachings, necessary credentials, and validity of art history teachings before but this one is big. 19th century Russian painting needs to be brought into the mainstream of art history. Students should be exposed to this so that they can make that necessary deviation from the traditional art history path and discover their interests.

Today’s rant is a short one but I hope that it serves as a reminder to deviate from the traditional art history path because it can often serve us negatively. I kick myself sometimes for being so stuck in studying things like the Renaissance because, while I do love this era and all the beautiful work it produced, I unintentionally tailor made an art history path that avoided a lot of brilliant work. For example, I’ve recently found interest in traditional chinese painting and how it created/developed a craft and style. But there are other things on the part of the art history world that need to be addressed, and what I just spoke of is a prime example. There’s no reason why so many contemporary art classes should discuss realism and not even mention Russian realism. Do these professors not know about it? Because if so they’re not qualified to teach about realism in my opinion.

Remember everyone, we’ve got to challenge ourselves when studying the history of art. It’s really easy to study what we like and have studied for a long time but don’t pigeonhole yourself. Take the time to look into some periods of art that you’ve never heard of or don’t really know about, you never know what you might find and you might spark a whole new interest or understanding.

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