Art history has always been important to me. When I was starting out, I wasn’t familiar with the history of art and it wasn’t until after I arrived at art school that I learned how art was involved with the humanities. When I had my first art-history class, I realized I could have a dialogue with all these very moving areas of humanism— philosophy, psychology, aesthetics—and soon enough these areas became driving devices for me. I became very curious about what it meant to be human—what humanity’s true potential was, and how we might achieve a higher state of being through art. Art history became a way of exploring precisely that.
When I was younger I found it interesting that European artists of my generation would speak about art history in a negative manner and say things like, “As an American artist, you don’t have to carry the weight of art history on your shoulders, which gives you, Americans, the freedom to move around and make gestures that are open and powerful.” It has always been just the opposite for me. From the American perspective of Western European art, one could see that an artist like Manet was able to become Manet through an awareness of Titian, Velázquez, Watteau, and Goya, and this sense of connectivity was a really beautiful thing. It shows how one is able to find interest in something greater than the self.
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If I look back at the works I’ve made over the last couple of decades, I think my relationship with art history makes itself very evident. I’ve always enjoyed creating works that would have this…