Art history sounds boring. Or rather, it sounds like an archaic pursuit. Why examine artifacts? Why ask questions about them? Are we even asking anything new at this point? Who asks the questions? Who produces information? Who has access to that information? The list goes on. But in fact, art history is not only incredibly interesting, it also helps us know more about ourselves. (As a quick example, we can look at the artists working in the U.S. during the “settling” of the West. In the pieces, we understand questions of the unknown future [technology v. tradition], of manifest destiny, of erasure and what was considered the Eden of the world. See also Thomas Cole.)
Not boring at all. However, we might say that art history is basically inaccessible to the average person, particularly if the information is not actively sought. Enter Smarthistory. Concerned with the ridiculous prices of art historical texts (upwards of $130 a piece), Smarthistory began a blog in 2005 to offer the ideas and images to the public for free. Now, the site offers hundreds of images, video recordings and mini-podcasts surrounding the history of art. Hell yes.
The art historians behind Smarthistory, Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, go out into the world and make videos of the pieces they see (ie. now). So they bring the context of now to the work of the past; in other words, we aren’t looking necessarily at slides of paintings but videos of the framed works as they exist in museums and cathedrals today. They even have an app available for when you travel to guide you in your viewing of, for instance, the Sistine Chapel. This is totally innovative, totally disrupts the canon of how we consume art historical knowledge.
And they just announced a Kickstarter project to help fund this pursuit. As of this writing, they’ve reached $7,822 of a $10,000 goal. I hope you’ll support them with me.