November 23rd, 2008
We’ve been very busy trying to get everything finished on the Smarthistory site — and at the same time developing new content and reaching out to prospective partners.
In the process of talking about smarthistory with each other, with colleagues, and giving presentations at AVICOM, and to the FIT Board of Trustees, one thing has become clear. Smarthistory — for me — has its origins in my childhood. I think the same is also true in slightly different ways for Steven.
I remember my father dropping me off at the Emma S. Clark Library in Port Jefferson, and I remember spending my time in the aisle along the window — where all the art books were. Maybe I was 12 or so. I remember looking in all the books for explanations about what the images meant. It was clear to me that the people who made these beautiful things were thinking about ideas that I couldn’t glean from the paintings themselves, on my own. I remember being frustrated over and over again when I consulted the books. No one seemed to tell me what I wanted to know. I wonder now if the works of art — and the secrets they seemed to keep — were analogues for other unconscious needs to decode the world around me…
Then one day, at SUNY Purchase, when I was just 17, during the very first art history class I ever took, the teacher (was it Shirley Blum?) talked about a sculpture by Giacometti — and asked us to describe what we saw — a figure so elongated and thin and without individuality. At that moment – when I realized that how the sculpture looked related to the culture of the mid-twentieth century — I remember feeling as though someone had finally given me the code book. It was a real epiphany. But for years after that, I struggled with many art history books that failed to provide the meanings and connections I was looking for.
And so — without even understanding these connections — nearly 30 years later, and lots of years of teaching art history, Smarthistory was born.