What is hands-on art history?

This fall, for the first time since the program began, Gallery/Studio is going to offer a class in art history… sort of. We refer to it amongst ourselves as “hands-on art history,” because it merges readings and discussions with short studio experiences in order to get a feel for how artists’ processes have changed over time. We’ve been thinking about merging our studio art classes with an art history class for a while, mostly due to some great experiences drawing with the Museum Guides, and finally decided to go for it when we learned about Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, the absolute best exhibit to have for this sort of class.

 Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971). A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007

Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971). A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007. Acrylic, enamel and rhinestones on wood panel, Overall: 108 x 144 in. (274.3 x 365.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Giulia Borghese and Designated Purchase Fund, 2008.7a-c. © Mickalene Thomas

The reason why Mickalene is an art historian/studio teacher’s dream come true is because of all the references. The title of the exhibition itself, Origin of the Universe, is a direct reference (or perhaps I should say response) to an 1866 painting by Gustav Courbet called L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World). Thomas often puts her work into conversations with art-historical cannons, with examples such as her piece Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, responding to Gustave Courbet’s Le Sommeil (Sleep), and her painting A Little Taste Outside of Love, part of the Museum’s permanent collection, often finding visitors puzzling about where they’ve seen something like it before (if this has happened to you, the answer is usually Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, painted in 1814).

Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, painted in 1814, now at the Louvre.

Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, painted in 1814, now at the Louvre.

Of course, mixed in with the art-historical references are social and racial conversations which are too complicated to get into in a blog post (just Google the word “Odalisque” to get started), but which will make for stellar class discussions and studio projects. At the end of the day, Thomas’ visual conversations are simply a great example of just what our Gallery/Studio program strives to do: Start with the work hanging on the museum wall, and build a bridge from it to you. Find your own connections to it, and make it yours.

Looking Back: Art History to Studio Practice starts on October 7 and runs Sundays from 1-3pm.  If you are interested in joining us you can register for this new class.