Advanced Amateur Art History

Actually By Chas Gillespie

From McSweeney’s

Good morning, students. Today we’ll look at slides and interrogate the common hermeneutic understandings of three important art movements. The first, the Pre-Renaissance, occurred before the Renaissance. The second topic for today is the Renaissance. Finally, we’ll end by touching on what happened after the Renaissance. It was, in a way, a response to, and an expansion of the Renaissance: the Post-Renaissance.

First slide. This painting represents Post-Renaissance horse paintings, specifically, big brown horses with six-packs. They also have large, fuming noses. Write that down. Notice what the rider is wearing. Does anyone own a similar suit of armor? No? Well then I’ll have to keep looking.

Before we proceed, let’s think thematically. Based on your reading, what changed from the earliest days of painting to the Renaissance? What makes the Renaissance different? Renaissance paintings look more realistic, good. What else? There are more decapitations, absolutely. You feel slightly attracted to the naked men and women, OK. Fewer weird-looking Jesus babies. Good, good. And what about this? Slide. Remember this cave painting? Renaissance painters were far less concerned with skinny, stick-figure bird men who hold staffs and are either standing or laying down in the vicinity of bison; instead, they were more interested in religion, history, boobies, wee-wees, ca-ca’s, the Renaissance, and random people standing in the background.

Renaissance painters were heavily influenced by x-rated picnics. No, they weren’t perverts. They were just a little curious, mythologically speaking. Slide. The gals at these picnics were fair-skinned and not all too skinny, and the guys were muscular and generally leaning against things. Sometimes they had wings. This will be on the final.

Slide. OK, now what’s important about this painting? First, there are extreme contrasts between light and dark. What else? There are people pointing at each other, yes. And they all have exaggerated facial expressions and seem to be yelling at each other. Now, I’m not a great lip reader, but this guy seems to be saying, “Ruuuunnpll!” and this other guy seems to be saying, “Graaaaaa!” Or maybe “Craaaaaa!” It’s a heated moment. Too heated for real words. Though it may also be unheated.

Slide. Here’s a good example of a Pre-Renaissance painting. It’s by Giotto. Do you see how some subjects have faint orange circles around their heads? These represent basketball, Giotto’s favorite sport. Orange head circles were also a common fashion in Florence at the time. In case you were wondering, other subjects have bendy serpent necks because of a bet Giotto made with his contemporaries. They said he couldn’t make a great painting where people had bendy serpent necks. He said he could. Giotto won the bet.

Slide. This is a classic Renaissance painting. It’s called Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter. I want you to take special notice of all those rectangles. They’re everywhere. This painting was originally going to be called Rectangles Observing Christ Doing Whatever, but the artist, Perugino, decided against it. Other titles he vetoed were St. Peter Receiving the Keys from Christ, Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter, and Mona Lisa. Note how the rectangles show perspective. Remember that word. Perspective. It means rectangles. Especially when rectangles are oriented toward the vanishing point, or, in technical language, are “bent,” to show distance.

Slide. Here’s a doodle I drew of a cat making out with a duck. This is an example of post-Renaissance because I made it after the Renaissance. Notice how the canvas is a Post-it note. That’s my favorite part about it. Also see how the cat, duck, and rock are arranged in a triangle formation. That’s important, but I forget why. Questions? Questions? No? Good.

Slide. Slide. Slide. Slide. Slide. Slide. Well, looks like we’ve reached the end. I’ve graded your essays. I saw a lot of good things in them about Michelangelo and his steroid goggles, what that Mona Lisa woman is thinking about, and that gang of beneficent hoarders named The Medici. But I do want to correct a few things. I saw some analysis of mannerism, chiaroscuro, and foreshortening. I believe you have mistaken me with someone who knows what these things mean.

I’m passing around copies of a scholarly article I wrote, which was recently accepted for publication on my blog, Read it for next time and pay close attention to my comparative analysis of splotches, dots, dribbles, line segments, sweeps, swooshes, points, whispers, and ear slices in the lily pad explorations and impressively-neat-bedrooms of the Post-Post-Renaissance paintings of Van Gogh, Monet, and Instagram.


About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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