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Interdisciplinary Approach to Art

Why Art Interpretation requires an Integrated Perspective?

Article written in collaboration with Indrajeet Yadav, Editorial direction Julien Vandanjon, Assistance Mariana Turiel.

Art is a way of looking at the world and the real world is multifaceted. Exactly why an interdisciplinary viewpoint helps art interpretation – the melting pot of culture, social history, science, politics, economics, philosophy, environment, theatre, literature, and language. More than that, such a broad approach holds the potential to build empathy in young students and foster their complete intellectual and social advancement.

Context is God!!!

Imagine authorities enforcing a lockdown in normal times. People would have made it a case of fundamental rights violation! But at a time the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc around the world, lockdowns are not so malevolent in the public eye. A necessary evil at worst!

“Content is king, but context is God”, as Gary Vaynerchuk rightly points out. There is a time and place for everything.

By its very nature, art history is an interdisciplinary field for students have to analyze an artefact in the wider background of culture, politics, economics, literature, and language of its time. An interdisciplinary approach is an essential, not a luxury. The implications of taking an expansive view of things transcend the realm of art. Real world developments and issues are multi-faceted. Dealing with them requires an interdisciplinary approach. Compartmentalized solutions don’t work.

The Case for Interdisciplinary Outlook

Art is a way of looking at the world. Humans explore the outside world and express their internal world via art. We see before we talk, before we express. Precisely why art is intuitive and why appreciating art is the analysis of human experiences and behaviour, present and past. Note the context of time

Next, how we look depends very much on our social and cultural backgrounds. For, art is a type of visual language, open to multiple interpretations based on the observer’s social, personal, and cultural values. Note the context of subjectivity

Art converges with multiple facets of the natural world and culture viz. social history, science, politics, economics, philosophy, environment, theatre, and literature. Therefore, art education rests on the two fundamental pillars of Creativity and Interpretation

Cross disciplinary approach to art places it in the larger context of society, culture, and history. This enables better understanding by: 

  • Exploring the meaning at the macro and micro levels.
  • Amplify student’s sensitivity, perspective, and conceptual reserves. 

In 2002, the Consortium of National Arts Education Association outlined the centrality of the interdisciplinary viewpoint in art:

  • Empowers students to solve problems.
  • Create fresh ideas.
  • Establish meaningful connections.
  • Discover connections between ideas. 

Popular perception regards art and science as distinct as chalk and cheese. This is not the case. Art is a way to visually represent science. Moreover, interpreting art enables science students to link science with society and human existence.

Golden Ratio used in painting on Ending of Slavery after French Revolution in 1848
< ex. “Golden Ratio” mathematical concept used by french painter Alphonse Garreau in construction of famous painting “L’Abolition de l’Esclavage” in 1848 – Musée du Quai Branly Collections. ©Capeline – Julien Vandanjon 2020

Timeless Influence of Context on Art

Gods and saints in Byzantine paintings radiate absolute power – golden background and imposing looks. Humanism emerged after Black Death and changed the perception of God. Michelangelo’s 1511 Creation of Adam portrays God and Raphael’s 1505 Madonna dell Granduca presents Mary as gentle beings. 

Ongoing industrialization of the 17th and 19th injected fresh concepts of time, light, and space into European oil paintings. Examples include Ruisdael’s 1670 painting The Windmill at Wijk and Peter Paul Ruben’s 1610 work Raining of the Cross. Please note, punctuality or time consciousness attained importance in the industrial age.

Monet’s understanding of light reflection helped him develop broken strokes, so vividly portrayed in the 1892-93 Rouen Cathedral series. Likewise, Vermeer’s 1658 work Milkmaid is based on an image captured by “camera obscura,” a proto camera. Speaking of cultural differences, 17th century Baroque landscape paintings, for example The Windmill at Wijk, depict time and space. Chinese landscape paintings, which culminated in the 10th century, portray rules of nature, universality, and man-nature unison. Examples being Mt. Lu by Jing Ho and Early Spring by Guo Xi. Diverse approaches are why The Windmill at Wijk presents an impending thunderstorm and the Chinese landscape paintings don’t!

Le Saut dans le vide - photography-performance by artist Yves Klein in 1960
< Surrealistic multi-exposition recomposed Photography by French Artist Yves Klein “Le Saut dans le Vide” by Harry Skunk and Janos Kender in 1960 © Succession Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris

Art Interpretation Today

Youth are more interested in contemporary art, and can acquire acumen from interpreting its connection with present day issues of consumerism, globalisation, and monopoly. These days, some may say materialism has endangered idealism in art, while commodification and consumerism threaten the autonomy of art. But Art lies everywhere the contexts allows it to flourish, and artists show off to make it happen. In 2021, from the icons of your smartphone to breathtaking building projection mapping shows the fragile frontier between what artists do and where you see their babies is going more and more blurry.

< Ralph Lauren London Brand “4D experience” Projection mapping, ten years ago in 2010

However, technology for rapid mechanical artwork reproduction makes art a powerful tool to shape economics and politics. Moreover, even at the primary school level, comparative analysis of art of various traditions can make students take cognizance of singular elements in diverse cultures, fine tune art-culture awareness, widen knowledge, and boost critical and analytical thinking – all necessary for their comprehensive intellectual and social advancement.

art, awareness, context, crossover, culture, digitalisation, digitaltransformation, education, heritage, interdisciplinary, museum, transmedia, transmission, university


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