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History of Art: Reflective Assignment

By Paul Quirk
History of Art: Reflective Assignment

By Paul Quirk

When I chose History of Art as a program choice, I wanted to learn more about the world of art.
Initially, I was disappointed when I learned that we would be learning only about 20 th century
art; but thankfully, the history of art leading up to the 20 th century was adequately covered.
This course has most definitely changed how I view art.

At first, I believed art to be that which most accurately represents reality. To me, the closer
reality was reflected in art, the “Better” that art was. I therefore saw photography as
perfection in art. Only when I studied this course did I learn that the perfection of reality in art
happened long before we had cameras, forcing me to re-examine my convictions. There was
something more to art, but what? Why did some famous artists achieve that perfection, only
to seemingly regress? I suddenly realized that the appearance of regression was due to my lack
of understanding, rather than any actual regression; much like my own understanding of
politics and business must seem like nonsense to my pet bird.

I endeavoured to learn more. As this program took me through the various progressions of
different artistic styles, I tried to find the common thread. At first this was difficult, as each
successive style of art seemed to be in rebellion of the previous style. Art almost seem
parasitic; new styles feeding off the discontent of the old, with the old resenting the existence
of the new. It seemed counter-intuitive, until I realized the nature of art was not linear,
scientific, or mathematical. Rather, it was a reflection of the human condition; flawed and
imperfect, yet beautiful in infinite ways.

I now believe that each artist must travel the same basic path as artists in our own history have
in order to reach the level of enlightenment required to accurately portray the current state of
the human condition. That is, they must first strive to achieve perfection; a tedious, seemingly
endless task that, once achieved, brings the artist to a higher level of understanding. Once they
reach this level, they recognize the parts that illustrate what it is they’re trying to portray, and
can distinguish this from the inconsequential “Background Noise” that serves only to diminish.
Art is a reflection on how we want to see our world, through the eyes of the artist. Reality is
full of inconsequential details. The eye of an artist is a trained eye that is able to strip away the
inconsequential details, to allow that which matters most to us to stand out in stark relief. The
things which matter most to us do not usually stand out in what we observe, which is why art is
so important. Some of the finest works of art are so removed from reality all we get is what

This has had a positive impact on my life. I’ve learned that striving for that perfection, and then
further honing that perfection by removing unnecessary bits must be the ultimate objective of
any professional. Shakespeare put it as such: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Whether in sculpture,
music, painting, photography, or the reflection of these artistic endeavours in day-to-day life,
recognizing the importance of this fact will be very useful for me as I pursue my career after
College graduation.

After taking this course, I will no longer see art as something that is simply a pleasing
arrangement of colours and lines; I will be forever committed to searching for the meaning.
Even the intentionally meaningless art has meaning in the human psyche, contrary to the
intentions of its creator, by virtue of its existence in the human psyche. In other words, “It is
meaningless, which means something to me, therefore it is not meaningless;” a paradox that
embodies the very elements of art. I would like to thank Michelle for taking me on this journey
through her world of art and bringing me to understand these things.