Introduction to the Author
My name is Taylor Simard, and I’m a 20-year-old student living in Canada. I study at Carleton in Ottawa, and double-major in Humanities and Art History, which both follow my life-long passions for books and art, and I’m completing a minor in Biology.
I’ve learnt a lot throughout university. The humanities program boasts the fact that they produce thinkers like no other program can, and I believe they have good founding for that, as I prove it more and more myself every day. I started out my university career in only this program; I was in love within the first week. There’s nothing like studying the literature of ancient civilizations and realizing that they’re just as ridiculous and emotional and funny as we are today. There’s something special about realizing the creators of great works of art are just people responding to their circumstance, and I know I’ll never stop learning about the funny quirks of ancient people’s that make them geniuses through the lens of time. In my second year of school I added a major in Biology, I thought maybe I’d become a physiotherapist if my arts dreams never fleshed out, it was like my back up plan. I’m too passionate a person to rely on a back-up plan, though, and instead I found a second love; within the humanities curriculum there was an art history year-long course that covered the emergence of art to the contemporary. I feel in love all over again with studying art, and I decided to drop the biology major to a minor, since it wasn’t my passion, and add an art history major instead. All of this was a mess by my third year, but I still added the major, even though it meant I’d have to add another year to the end of my degree, which was undoubtedly worth it.
And now you’re all caught up. I’m living through my third year of university in the time of Covid-19, and it’s hard, really hard compared to the love that I found in a classroom, the ease of chatting with professors about silly things after a confusing class. But it’s getting better, we’re all figuring out how to learn remotely, and how to teach remotely, and how to find our happiness in studying remotely. The world isn’t going to go back to being the same after this, we’re going to have to learn and adapt, and it’s quite possible that I’ll have to finish my degree partially online, but we’re getting better, and hopefully, that’ll be okay. I know that me and my generation are stepping into the world and the workforce in a very uncertain time, but I have faith in the world’s adaptation to the virtual, and I know that I’m following my passions, and I believe that everything will work itself out.
The arts are inherently old fashioned, this is just a fact. There is amazing contemporary art, and it’s taken very seriously, but there are years of art in the past, and they’ve been studied for years more. For some reason, somewhere within the Baroque period, people stopped believing that artists created art for enjoyment or as a craft, and instead chose to believe that the artist was a suffering genius, pouring their soul into their craft to the point that their human shell was a husk animated by alcohol. That’s a very intense description of it, but look at some of the old geniuses, writers, artists, composers, it’s true to every category. Because these artists considered themselves to be these ‘suffering geniuses’, and in studying the works, people believe that they must be their own sort of genius to understand it.
We look at pure white sculptures, and see them as genius and purity. These sculptures are, of course, feats and testaments to the artist’s talent and incredible ability, but most times, the real importance of the piece of art that is studied is its relevance within the culture and history it was a part of. Michelangelo’s David was originally created to capture the momentous battle between David and Goliath, but that does not reflect its true importance. It was eventually taken to be a representation of Florence overthrowing their oppressive rulers, and instead it was a testament to the people.
Art has never been for the elite, it is to be appreciated by every person for which it was created, not the lone genius who identifies with the artists unique struggle. For some reason, though, an idea formed that it is the elite who understand art, so first, everyone who wanted to be anyone knew all about art, and then, somewhere after the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class, art didn’t matter in the same way to be someone. So flashforward to where we are today, and art history isn’t prioritized, it’s a hobby of academics and a collection for the rich, but it’s not something worth teaching children in school, despite how interesting and important art is to understanding history and humanity. And while it is difficult to understand emotion while viewing something virtually instead of in person (as it would have to be studied for all to have access to it) it is very possible to see and understand the iconography and cultural significance, which is definitely more important anyways.
It makes sense that art has been treated like a sort of genius, and for some reason, most people seem to believe they can’t or shouldn’t bother understanding that genius. But more often than not, the genius is not some pure, otherworldly genius that manifests in emotion, but rather genius that comes from contextual brilliance, using iconography in the right ways to portray a story of scene as completely as possible. And that can and should be taught. We could look at a painting we all know, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and though everyone knows it, it is not because it’s some beautiful painting that evokes emotion. Rather, it is famous for its genius because of all the elements that da Vinci has at play within the fresco (because this work is not a painting, but rather painted onto a wall in a refractory). The first reason this piece is renowned is because it has a different composition to all the other paintings of the Last Supper at the time, and kept Judas on the same side of the table so that he could keep his characters forming pyramidal threes. The second reason is that there is an obvious demonstration of da Vinci’s understanding of the intricacies of the eye, demonstrated in the perspective. He also refrains from giving Jesus a halo, and instead has his body forming a supernatural triangle that demonstrates his divinity, and gives him a halo of light entering from the window behind him. The overall genius of this piece is portraying the supernatural and stabilizing order on Christ, with a divine message of monumentality that all of the subjects impose. That is to say that the scene is an incredibly important moment in Christianity, but that it is shown as a ordered room (divinity orders things perfectly), and the characters themselves portray the importance when you look deeper into the painting.
Things like this can be taught virtually, it’s not important that you can see every small brushstroke or anything like that to understand this fresco. And were art taught like this, it might regain its status as an important part of society, only to teach people about their culture and history instead of to separate out the elite.
Virtual Reality could be the key to all of this. With Virtual Reality, art could be viewed nearly as well as if the viewer was standing in front of it. The stigma that art is only for the elite could be challenged, because you wouldn’t need elite access to view the piece. Making art virtually accessible to everyone, not only as a hobby for the academically elite, would allow for people to not only understand their cultures and backgrounds, but to see their backgrounds as something that is just as worthy of being known as math or science. It would allow people to see that all of the great masters made mistakes, worked to get where they are, drew inspiration from their own lives, and it would perhaps allow for the youth to add more art to their own lives.