The Unreliable Book of Art History – Chapter 1: Defining Art History and Answering the Question of Time.

As promised a few posts earlier, I’m here with my first post on History of Art.

I believe I must begin by disclaiming all that I’ll be writing in these history posts.


These posts aren’t meant to be educational – they merely present the view of an artist. In fact, a specific artist, that’s yours truly. This is why I request you to consider these posts as a work of fiction inspired by historical facts. I am not sure if I can keep the historical facts correct to the t, and I take no responsibility if you fail an exam because you thought you could use my posts to study.

Remember that I am not an art historian, an art critic, or even an art teacher. I am an artist – and in this book (if it becomes one,) I’ll be presenting the history of art, as an artist.

With that out of our way, let me begin by cobbling together a workable definition of Art History.

First, let us define Art and History separately.

1. ART:

Let us begin by understanding Art.

Art is a creative visual expression that is aesthetically or emotionally appealing.

This definition is quite clear if we understand the essence of the term creative.


The term Creative means original and/or imaginative.

So now can rewrite the definition of ART as:

Art is an original/imaginative visual expression that is aesthetically or emotionally appealing.

Let us now review the term History.


History is defined as the study of the past events.

Now putting together a workable definition of ART HISTORY is quite easy.

1 + 2 = ART + HISTORY:


Art History is the study of the past of aesthetically or emotionally appealing visual expression that is original or imaginative.

Now equipped with this definition, we can figure out art in our own imaginative way. Instead of focusing on the years (and the complex methodology of presenting those years) and the details of the objects and paintings found (the dimensions, the provenance, and so on…) we will quietly try to slip into the skin of the artist and feel the creation of that art work.

But before we begin, we must get some terminology right.

Tackling the Question of Time:

Let us say, you encounter “c. 35 ka” in my posts. Now what could that mean?

Note: If you are shaking your head with confusion write large upon your face, you aren’t alone.

Here’s what this cryptic term means:

“c.” is circa (used for “approximately” – often it’s difficult to be exact for the time before humans had invented the calendar and before being historian wasn’t in vogue.)


“ka” is kilo-annum or a thousand years,

so “c. 35 ka” would translate to “approximately 35 thousand years ago.”


Another Note: c. 5 ka back, in Ancient Egypt, “ka” meant the soul.

Once in a while, you’ll also encounter the term BP, which means “Before Present.” However, the present in this case isn’t right now, but 1950. We’ll stick to ka because when you are dealing with circa in thousands, a few tens of years here and there don’t matter.


No Artist is Ever Morbid.

In the preface of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde says,

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

I’ve been drawing for decades. My earliest memories of drawing are from Kashmir. I was five. We lived in Ramban on the bank of river Chenab. In mornings, my mother would give me a bath, comb my hair, hand me a slate and sit me out in the porch so that I could get some sun. I could see the violently white waters of Chenab beating against the rocks that glistened as they reflected the morning light behind the green front yard that stretched between me and the river. I’m sure if the house was any closer to Chenab than it was, my mother wouldn’t leave me on the porch alone.

I would sit on the steps, wait for my Mom to bring me my breakfast (a fried egg and a glass of milk,) and draw. I wasn’t supposed to draw though. I was supposed to “write,” but I drew everything. The alphabet, the numbers, the steps, the flower, even the egg. (My mom used to tell me that when she asked me what it was, I told her that it was an “O” inside another “O.”)

So that’s where my artistic journey began – in a land that’s today torn by politics, terrorism, and separatism. The land that in my hazy memories is still the most beautiful place that I’ve ever lived in.

But I began this post with an Oscar Wilde quote, and I shouldn’t stray too far from what I intended saying.

I’ve been painting. Not caricatures, nor portraits – but I’ve been painting my consciousness. I don’t classify my art, mostly because I can’t. How do you classify a vision, a half-dream, a sub-conscious feeling so strong that it takes me by my spine and shakes me up…?

I don’t know if an artist can express everything – but as an artist, I attempt to capture those fleeting moments that scream with emotions. The violence of these moments, like the violence of Chenab, froths white and blue and red – and to express it, I need not just lines but colors – and so I sketch fast…the madness of those first sketches is so complete that the painting competes with the sketches to express it all… if it does it at all.

The galleries have long waitlists and it would be at least an year before my paintings are exhibited – until them, I remain their captive creator… until then, I also remain your absentee blogger, whose mind and heart never see eye to eye – but then whose does?


Discovering the Artist within me (Part II) – Classification.

Artists are classified. Period.

Ironically, periods are what classify artists, as do schools and styles. And if you apply paint on canvas, you’ll automatically be classified as a kind of artist, or your art shall be called a mix of styles.

In past several days, I  have had the opportunity of interacting with an amazing young woman. I draw and paint what I want, and having never set foot in an art school until recently, I’ve been both positively and negatively blessed. Positively because I still think the way I want to and I continue to question what I don’t understand, and negatively because the techniques of art are difficult to come by.

This young person is a vibrant combination of intellect and creativity, and her thoughts on art are mature beyond her years. My learning from her has led me reflect upon what My illustrations done for the purpose of exemplifying articles and news, and my caricature renditions of people for the purpose of satire and/or humor notwithstanding, I draw and paint:

  • My thoughts that often take the form of expressions, faces, mountains, animals of all ilk.
  • My memories that fluctuate between the light and dark but often get personified/morphed into my physical experiences.
  • Motion, speed, acceleration for everything around us is perpetually in motion.
  • Colors – washes, splashes, blobs…but all to bring out my thoughts in a visual format.

My young friend tells me that the artist within me may have surrealistic leanings. I do love Dali’s surrealist renderings, but I’m not sure if I would eventually paint like that. Dreams are different from thoughts – thoughts are anchored in logic; dreams break those anchors, allowing the thoughts to fly aimlessly, meeting other thoughts that they were never supposed to meet, and populating a landscape to give birth to surrealism. The elements of surprise, the realistic treatment of people, animals, and objects – they were the hallmarks of Dali’s paintings.

Oh, now that I’m reminded of Salvador Dali, I must show you the caricature that I did of him a few years ago. A simple pencil rendering, nothing much – but one day, I shall paint him the way he would’ve painted himself, surrealistically.


My take on Dali’s work has always been of wondrous respect.

Right now, I stand on a spiritual event horizon. If I cross over, I may not return; if I don’t, I won’t know what lies on the other side. But from the windows of time that rush past me at lightening speed, I’ve been able to catch a few glimpses and those glimpses must be translated into sketches…those sketches might get me my visa to the other side. I just hope that it’s a tourist visa and that it comes with a free return ticket.