Sunday, September 25, 2011

History of Art

For those of you who sat through Art History classes in college...and actually liked it...this is for you.

I recently bought this updated copy of the classic book History of Art by H.W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson. Does it bring back memories? I ordered this copy in a panic when I couldn't find my original from college. Of course, the day it arrived, I found the old one safely stored away. But now, I have a backup.

Janson, as some call it, is a huge coffee-table-size book filled with pictures of art from Etruscan urns to Andy Warhol's soup cans and filled with information about how each piece relates to other events of its time.

I'm not sure why it's important to have this book in my possession. I kept few things from college, but I can't seem to let go of this. Perhaps it's because it's so dense with information. Or maybe it's like a travel guide for the aspiring art collector/world traveler.

But the more likely scenario it that it reminds me of one of my favorite professors, Mrs. Harriet Mears. She was a small, soft-spoken, well-educated lady who exuded intelligence and kindness. She was always restrained and professional, but in her art history classes, her excitement was hard to contain. At times she would get so excited describing the cathedrals of Europe that she would almost seem out of breath. I completely understood - even only seeing them in pictures took my breath.

She also taught weaving and other art classes (I can just hear the snicking from the pre-med students) all of which I enjoyed mostly because she taught them. Her love for her job and for artistic effort was infectious. Anyone who knew her loved her company, whether they were a student or a colleague.

She was also a safe person to be around for those of us who shall I say it....slow to grasp less objective styles of art. You know how it can't admit to just anyone that you prefer neoclassical architecture to modernism or realism over abstract expressionism.

A week after buying the book, it came in handy in a different way. Ison decided he was a big boy and didn't need his high chair. So in the absence of a booster seat, we pressed Janson into service. Turns out, when paired with Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living, it's just the right height to bring a 19-month-old child up to table height.

I wish Harriet could see this picture and meet my son. I think she would approve of this twist on "form follows function".

Copyright 2011 Shelly Reeves Smith

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