Forty Thousand Years of Art in Fifty Eight Minutes

Plaza of the Americas
Dallas, Texas


During the week, after work, I am so tired. All I can think of is getting home and falling into bed. The whole world feels dim and tilted – sloping toward the land of nod.

This is not a good thing – I don’t want to sleep my life away. I try and figure out something to do after work every day. I’m not always successful – but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying.

So I saw that tonight was an Art History lecture at Kettle Art in Deep Ellum (this is the gallery where I bought my bargain painting a month ago). Painter and educator Justin Clumpner was giving a talk in BYOB Art History:

Justin Clumpner’s titillating presentation on this-thing-we-call-art kicks off the final weekend of “Love, Death, + The Desert”. Join us tomorrow night at 7 for the first installment of Justin’s behind-the-scenes glimpse into the strange and mysterious world of art through the ages.

That sounded like fun – so I decided to go.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Art History. I took a year of it in college, as a break from my chemistry classes (and in a vain attempt to meet women). It turned out to be a revelation.

My instructor was an interesting person. On the first day of class he said, “We are supposed to go from ancient art to the present, but we are going to stop at 1860, because there hasn’t been anything worthwhile done since.” He lived in a world of his own – a world filled exclusively with the art of yesteryear. He talked about the Roman Colosseum and how it had canvas shades that would extend out over the audience. He asked, “Those astro-dome things nowadays have that too, don’t they?” The man had no idea what a modern sports stadium was.

But he was able to teach. I was fascinated by how, with a little instruction and after looking at thousands of projected 35mm slides from a rotating carousel in a darkened room (these were the days before powerpoint – and possibly better for it) – I could look at a totally unknown painting and tell who had painted it and in what year, give or take a few.

My biggest problem is that I would have four hours of chemistry lab before the art history class. I had to make a difficult left brain-right brain switch in only a few minutes of walking across campus. I remember looking at a slide of a beautiful Byzantine Mosaic and all I could think of was, “What pigment did they use to get that blue?”

One day I left my lab, walked to art history, ate lunch, studied on campus for a few hours, then walked the two miles to my apartment. I started cooking dinner when my roommates came home. They stared at me and said, “Bill, what the hell is that on your face?” I realized I still had my big heavy laboratory goggles on. I was so used to them I forgot to take them off and still felt normal. I can’t believe nobody had said anything to me yet that day – I must have looked like an idiot.

Today, after work, I caught the Red DART line downtown and then transferred to the Green to get to Deep Ellum. The Transit Gods smiled on me and I didn’t have a wait – so I arrived early. The talk was billed as BYOB and I wish I had gone to pick up a growler of local beer – but I settled for a little metal flask loaded with a few draughts of precious Ron Flor de Cana.

The Altamira Bison

The Altamira Bison

The talk was really interesting. Of course, it could only be a quick overview, from cave paintings of forty thousand years ago to post-modernism in one hour is a tough and fast voyage – but Justin Clumpner is a high school art teacher and knows how to bring an audience along with him.

He said he wanted to make the BYOB Art History Talks a regular thing, maybe once a month. I hope so – it will be cool to hear him talk about some themes and topics in a more detailed, comprehensive way. If you want to give it a shot, like Kettle Art and watch their feed – I’ll see ya there.

Maybe I’ll be able to get a growler of beer to bring. Some fresh local beer and an art history lecture… that’s a good way to spend a work night. Better than collapsing at home.