Art History: It’s All Derivative

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For an artist, familiarity with Art History will prove invaluable in conversing about art. Obviously, you cannot be familiar with ALL Art History. However, you should be familiar with the movements, styles and mediums that influence your own work. In fact, identifying from where you derive your own creative inspiration will provide authority and authenticity.

If you think your art is 100% original, we recommend a reality check. At this point in human history, we must credit the shoulders on which we stand. Certainly, events will spawn new movements, stylistic preferences will evolve and technology will provide new mediums. However, they all derive inspiration from somewhere. By increasing your knowledge of the movements, styles and mediums that most resemble your work, you will increase your authority when discussing and commenting about the body of work where your art fits. If opportunity arises, develop relationships with your competition – even a civil rivalry – which will likely spur sales for you and your competition.

By developing an approachable authority and not taking yourself too seriously, you become authentic. Authenticity sells art. As an artist, you are a brand. By becoming an authentic brand customers will identify with you. Once a customer identifies with you, you’ve created a patron.

For more on art originality, check out the discussion on Art Biz Blog hosted earlier this year: “Is there such a thing as originality?”.

Update: Good thoughts from Lori McNee (@lorimcneeartist): “10 Tip to Find Your Own Artistic Voice

Posted by James Knauf   @   16 August 2011 2 comments
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  • Trevor

    What sources would you recommend for an overview of art history? How do you suggest I go about learning where my art fits? I partly agree that knowing from where my art derives lends itself to authenticity, but I can’t say I’ve had many in-depth conversations about art history where I was expected to be an authority.

    • James Edward Knauf

      Hi Trevor, There’s no need to become an authority but you may find that discovering your “visual lineage” can help you describe your work or even suggest a future course to explore. I have looked long and hard for an image map to art movements and until I find one, I suggest browsing the different movements listed at
      Let me know if you discover a better resource.

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