While just a youth, when I first began studying art early in college, I learned about Jean Fouquet — not from an art history class but by pure happenstance. I was dating a musician and was visiting the university’s music room with him at the main library. There was nothing for me to do, so I wandered into the adjacent stacks. Back then they were positively medieval. The stacks consisted of acres of books on metal shelves on dark mezzanine floors, wedged between regular floors. They were tall enough but still dungeon-like. In one of these dark corridors, a title on “medieval” something or other caught my notice. I had accidentally found the shelf on illuminated manuscripts, one of which was The Hours of Etienne Chevalier by Jean Fouquet.
I checked out the book and found I loved it so much that I contacted the publisher, New York Graphic Society, and arranged to purchase a copy — this in the era long before Amazon.com! Forever afterward, I counted myself a “real” artist because I knew who Jean Fouquet was. And I knew, not because my art history professor had told me so, but because curiosity, serendipity and fate had led me there. This would not be the last cold finger of a dead old master tapping me on the shoulder — there would be many more — and the fingers didn’t really feel cold at all — but warm and living and encouraging.
What does an artist need to know? What is the difference between a broad awareness of an artistic past — one perhaps reaching 30,000 years back in time (painting has been around a while) — verses a casual sense of art appreciation or a bit of cocktail party banter about art names?
Hor d’oeuvres or the meal? Funny, I used to think knowing about important but less famous artists would mark me as a “wow.” It hasn’t had exactly that effect. One comes across as bookish, pedantic or odd. Sigh! [Top of the post: my drawing after the Ionian Flute Player]