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The Two Sides of Art Histories

  • The history of any artistic phenomenon is two histories in one: the history of art that represented its time and the history of art that was ahead of its time.
  • The artists that matter divide in two groups: icons of their age, and artists that were ahead of their time.
  • Icons of their time form the chronicle of what most people saw happen
  • Artists ahead of their time (variously termed "pioneers, innovators, the vanguard") represent a completely different aspect of history: the critics/historians discover and offer to the reader something that most people missed but that was somehow important
  • The pioneers are viewed by their supporters as more "heroic" than icons: icons were lucky that what their work resonated with the masses and did not have to struggle against what was popular (they embodied what was popular).
  • The emotional attachment to icons tends to be personal too, as people who liked them and still identify their youth with those icons try to prove (first of all to themselves) that those icons were "pioneers, innovators, the vanguard" as much as the others.
  • In science there is no need for such distinction: the hero is the one who is ahead of her/his time, the discoverer is a discoverer, the inventor is an inventor, regardless of how many people knew of them at the time when they practiced.
  • In the humanities critics/historians who hail pioneers over icons are trying to discover the equivalent of the scientist: it is a transfer of the values of science to the arts.