At one point or another, art class has been part of every child’s school curriculum. Many of us can remember drawing pictures, doing arts and crafts and showing the end result to our parents who were always proud of our creation. I loved these classes as a child and, as I got older, I took an art history class in my high school. Learning about art history is interesting; you learn about the development of different artistic movements and the impact that these have had on our society. Despite the fact that this was all three years ago, I really enjoyed these classes and can still remember a lot. Towards the end of my high school time I had a realization (or perhaps it was just something that I started to notice more and more): the art that I had been studying was mainly European or Western. I also started to see that whenever art was presented that was not Western it would be regarded as special, or out of what is ordinary.
This ‘revelation’ moment encouraged me to research non-Western artists. I did this not for the sake of their non-Western identity, but because I was curious to find out if their perspective (and, in turn their art) would be any different. I found a lot of artists that I had never heard of who had produced tons of work. I was astonished that it took me about seventeen years to find out about this. It’s important to be aware of the fact that art is not only Western; it’s universal. You might be surprised to find out that Picasso went through an “African period” for three years where he was inspired by African art and incorporated this style into his paintings. In one of his well-known paintings Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) this influence can be seen. I’m mentioning this to argue that non-European art has been present for a long time, and that European artists have also been influenced by art from other parts of the world. Yet, for a long time (and to a lesser extent, still today) Europe has been the place to be to visit museums and learn about art. Western art has, for a long time, been seen as the norm and yet many Western artists have been influenced by art from other parts of the world. Part of this is because what was seen as foreign was romanticized but not fully appreciated. On the other hand it’s also okay to be inspired by something else; to create something original is very hard, if not impossible. Europe colonized different parts of the world, therefore it isn’t strange at all for these non-Western elements to be part of European art.
Nowadays, I am happy that there are large amounts of artists from different parts of the world that create art to express their opinions and different perspectives through their pieces of work. Part of my lack of knowledge of other artists was due to what I was taught in school, but luckily I was able to appreciate the Western curriculum, while also find out about other things that interested me. Sometimes I’m still worried about what other children will learn: will they know to look for Asian, African or American (among other) art on their own? It’s important to be reminded that what we see, hear, read and watch is not always great art because of where it comes from, it should be great because of technique, the message behind it or just personal preference.
(Header image courtesy of Picasso, moma.org)