No Products in the Cart
A Brief History of Socially Distanced Art
We’ve become so collectively used to, and at the same time fed up with, Skype calls and Zoom events that they will inevitably come up in any conversation.
Indeed, a huge part of what made New York a brimming arts community has always been in-person experiences: slightly wine-drunk gallerists at exhibition openings, enjoying a silent morning at the Met before tourists come rushing in, going home on the F packed with everyone else who was at the same concert… Curina team is feeling the absence as well, with studio visits having been our main channel of connecting to artists.
But is art intrinsically tied to public viewership? Does its effect change or diminish when the audience is limited to a few, or even just one viewer? Today we look at examples of personal uses of art in world history that end up being not just personal.
Meditation and Solitude
In the corner of the picture, there is a description in his own writing revealing that this is a gift in return for the valuable books sent by his follower Yi Sang-jeok who was staying in Beijing. The two evergreen trees in the picture symbolize their strong tie as a teacher and a student.
Literati (i.e rich, intellectual people) in old China and Korea considered the process of ink painting a meditative activity. These works were not meant to be shown in a public setting like modern art, nor were they considered a discrete “product” separated from the process. Amateur painters were encouraged to be aware of the connection between their mind and body through simple yet meticulous acts of grinding inkstone, mixing pigments, and applying just the right amount of pressure on their brush to achieve the desired density of color.
Naturally, painting was an activity done in the privacy and solitude of one’s own home. Literati only occasionally ventured out into nature to paint based on observation. Instead, they either painted still life or the scenery outside their windows and, even more commonly, painted nature based on imagination. The finished painting was often shared among a circle of close friends or sent back and forth as letters. Because many of these pieces incorporated poetic text, sometimes noblemen opened “poetry parties” where paintings were passed around to inspire guests to improvise a poem on the spot.
Art, Right on Your Body
What’s more personal than art you wear on your skin?
You might think at first glance that, since they are so noticeable, clothes or accessories mainly function as an expression of your personality to people who look at you. While this is not false, think about how wearing makeup or your favorite clothes makes you feel like a different person (or more like yourself?). When art is so close to your own tangible body, it actually changes your perception of yourself.
Weaving is one of the oldest art forms. Quecha culture in modern day Peru plays a big role in women’s daily lives - it is not only a bonding activity among close friends and family but also transmits oral knowledge through color and pattern. Called pallay, patterns are associated with certain communities or with the animals and landscape from a myth. Of course, the weaver has the power to reflect their own personalities on these more general themes as well.
Similarly, the Navajo and Pueblo (although there are conflicting theories about who transmitted the knowledge to whom) in what is now Southwestern United States had a long tradition of basket weaving, also produced at home but representing a wider network of symbolic knowledge.
Even more literally “on your skin” are tattoos.
Discoveries of tattooed human and horse bodies of the Pazyryk tribe in modern day Russia point towards the nature of tattoos to document and preserve your experiences like a diary. In this nomadic tribe, the bond between a person and their horse was lifelong and unique. By tattooing illustrations representing key moments of this horse-human relationship on both bodies, the person was seen to actually transform into the next stage in their life. Even more, because these illustrations are so symbolic and condensed, only the person who wears it would know the full extent of their meaning.
Dying Alone: Chapels and Tombs
Consider the fact that in the majority of human history, we have invested our creative efforts in adorning the afterlife - the audience being the dead person and them alone.
Most famously, Egyptian pyramids are believed to have been closed off once funeral ceremonies were over in order to preserve the luxury items within safe - although many were stolen in the millenia that followed - so that the dead could carry them to the afterworld. The elaborate wall paintings within either depicted key moments in the dead’s life, or served as a roadmap to what would happen once they arrived in the netherworld, all personalized as a protective tool to guide the dead through the afterlife. Of course, let’s not forget that the grandeur of the pyramid's exterior definitely had an awe-inspiring effect on the pharaoh’s subjects seeing it from the outside.