Art and Memory

Everyone says it: the art world has no memory. Of course it isn’t true that everybody says this. Nor is it true that the art world suffers from an across-the-board case of amnesia. Not only museums but also many galleries show work by artists from earlier times. The art magazines fairly often cast retrospective glances into this or that corner of the past. Nonetheless, there is a widespread feeling that denizens of the art world—especially younger ones—tend to focus exclusively on the present.

So it is often said that history is being forgotten, if not by everyone then by just about everyone. It is said the past is the region not of origins acknowledged but of oblivion imposed. It is said that if we refuse to see where a work of art comes from we are not really seeing it. To forget history is to afflict oneself with a kind of blindness. And this affliction takes a particularly dire form in those younger artists who seem not to know the precedents for their own work. Guided by a few reflexes they picked up in school, they have reduced art-making to an unconsciousness routine. It’s as if they were sleepwalking in their studios.

You know the phrase it’s too good to be true? The picture sketched by conventional wisdom is too bad to be true. In further posts, I’ll present a more accurate idea of the various ways in which a knowledge of history does, after all, inflect contemporary sensibilities. Before I do I want to say something about the allure of the present. Everyone feels it at one time or another, and I think it would be a good idea to ask why. Just what is it that makes the immediate moment so glamorous, so enchanting? More soon.

About carterratcliff

I am a poet who writes about art and everything else.
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5 Responses to Art and Memory

  1. Genia Chef says:

    The High Renaissance was born when the artists rediscovered antique Greek sculpture.
    Now I visit the shows of young artists and I have the feeling that they rediscover something that was made in the 80ies. So, history of art looses depth.

  2. i may steal that comment.

  3. Sarah Thompson says:

    Carter, what a great essay! Thank you!

    • carterratcliff says:

      Thank you. And I apologize for the delayed reply. I suppose it’s obvious that I haven’t gotten into the rhythm of blogging . . .

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